175 Million Gallons Later, Progress in Stopping Flow of Oil

by Ryan Scholl on July 16, 2010

After 87 days, the latest reports are that BP may finally have stopped the flow of oil from its Deepwater Horizon well. Although tests showing that the cap is working are positive, work continues on drilling two relief wells that will permanently plug the gusher.

Over the last long 12 weeks, the government estimates that approximately 175 million gallons of oil have flooded into the Gulf of Mexico. That is roughly equivalent to 16 Exxon Valdez spills, making it many times over the largest oil spill in national history and perhaps the worst environmental crisis we’ve ever confronted. It is hard to understate the scale of environmental destruction the Gulf will continue to experience for months and probably years to come.

From damaged marine and coastal wildlife habitat covering thousands of square miles to crippled fishing and tourism industries that depend on healthy oceans and beaches, BP’s Deepwater Horizon blow out is a disaster in every sense of the word. And that is before we are able to assess the extent of the damage from the underwater oil plumes or the more than two million gallons of chemical dispersants that have been dumped into the Gulf.

One simple fact is now abundantly clear: offshore drilling is a dirty and dangerous business, even under the best of conditions. Despite the oil industry talking points in recent years (including BP’s) extolling the virtues of new and improved, environmentally-safe drilling techniques, all the technology, brain power, and financial resources of one of the world’s most powerful oil companies were not enough to prevent the worst oil spill in our history.

The Obama administration this week renewed its call for a 6 month moratorium on new deepwater offshore drilling leases while the entire event and its causes are investigated. Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar revised the conditions of the original moratorium in a move designed to satisfy a court ruling that shot down the previous attempt. The Obama Administration’s commitment to a temporary halt to deepwater drilling is an important, but tiny, step toward the kind of ocean policy and energy policy the nation needs. And of course, this timeout from drilling comes on the heels of the President’s expressed support for expanded drilling.

The only way to ensure that our coasts and our oceans are truly protected from the dangers of drilling is for the President to reinstate a full and permanent moratorium on offshore drilling. Environment America was part of an effort to collect and deliver more than 400,000 public comments to the President calling for an end to new offshore drilling. We’re working with champs in the Senate to end huge government subsidies to the oil industry. And, we are opposing BP’s efforts to drill new exploratory wells in the seas above Alaska, where waters and wildlife are even more vulnerable to a spill than the Gulf of Mexico. To solve the problem in the long term, we are ramping up a national campaign to reduce the need for offshore oil drilling by reducing the demand for oil in our transportation and energy sectors.

Perhaps the spewing of oil into the Gulf has finally come to an end. But the disaster has reminded Americans about the true costs of offshore drilling and our addiction to oil. A majority of Americans now oppose new offshore drilling, according to a June 16 CNN/Opinion Research poll (compared to only 30% opposed two years ago). It’s time for President Obama to take notice, reverse course and announce a permanent end to offshore drilling. Doing so would be a huge step towards the clean energy future and healthier oceans we desperately need.

The author works for Environment America, a federation of 29 state based environmental organizations with more than 100 staff and 1 million members, activists, and allies working together for a greener, healthier future.

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