If I were to walk outside right now and ask the next person I see what the words “Deepwater Horizon” brought to mind, I wouldn’t be surprised if he/she simply stared at me with a puzzled look. Yet exactly two years ago, we all watched the news as the story of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion developed. It would ultimately become the worst man-made ecological disaster in history as the uncapped well poured nearly 5 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. Many of us chastised the oil companies, BP in particular, for being too concerned with profits and expected the government to take action to prevent future spills. Now, two years later, the storm has quieted down but how much has things really changed? Here are some facts/figures I collected:
BP has paid out just 7.8 billion dollars for economic losses/medical bills to affected people, though it claims a total of 37.2 billion spent in response to the disaster. By comparison, BP had a total revenue of 386 billion dollars in 2011 alone.
The Gulf spill is not the only oil disaster in the last two years. Lost in the media coverage and the aftermath are spills in Utah (June 2010, 33000 gallons), Michigan (July 2010, 1.1 million gallons), Montana (July 2011, 63000 gallons), and countless other spills in foreign countries but from American companies.
Though the Oil Spill Commission ultimately concluded that BP did not sacrifice safety for profits, it also noted that a number of decisions made by BP to speed up construction of the oil rig increased the risks of a disaster. A recent report from former commission members noted that Congress has done very little to improve regulations on offshore drilling. For example, the current liability cap for an offshore oil spill is still a mere 75 million dollars.
I’m sure that decisions are made every day that have significant ecological impact but are necessary for the benefit of society. However, I certainly had hoped that the environmental impacts would remain minor. If something like the Deepwater Horizon disaster can’t galvanize the public into demanding long term changes, then what will it take? What can we do to reach a so-called “tipping point” when we as a society realize that environmental problems need to be solved now?