As the Trump administration proposes to rollback regulations on offshore drilling, let’s take a look at why these safety measures were put in place to begin with.
Nine years ago, on April 20th, 2010, the Gulf of Mexico faced the most devastating environmental disaster in United States history. The BP Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded 50 miles off the Louisiana coast, killing 11 people. An estimated 210 million gallons of oil and 1.8 million gallons of chemical dispersants seeped into the deep ocean, polluting the coast and the seafloor.
It wasn’t until five years later, in July of 2015, that BP finally agreed to pay a $20 billion settlement over 15 years.
The journey to that settlement was a hard one and often discouraging. Ocean Conservancy tracked and publicized the impacts of the oil on the Gulf and its wildlife, while BP spread lies that their oil disaster was “good for the Gulf.”
When the settlement was announced and BP was finally held accountable for its actions, our celebration was mixed with horror as we read the damage assessment—a full report on the extent of the oil impacts. Hundreds of thousands of sea turtles, marine mammals and birds died, along with trillions of larval fish. An area 20 times the size of Manhattan is still polluted and buried on the Gulf seafloor.
Today, the Gulf community stands united—people across the five states that are committed to restoring the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem so it is healthier and more resilient than it was when the disaster started. We can’t ever go back to a time before the BP oil spill, but we can seek balance between the health of the Gulf and how we use it.
Regulations are that balance. The oil and gas industry will not be going away anytime soon—it undeniably provides jobs and economic opportunity in a landscape where there aren’t always other big industries. But what is the trade-off?
If you’ve spent time on the Gulf Coast, you can’t miss the rigs lined up along the horizon, or the petrochemical facilities that we share space with on land. But the Gulf of Mexico is not just oil and gas. It’s a booming tourism destination and a productive fishing industry, each supported by a rich ecosystem. It’s also a home to 87 million people. And homes are something that you must care for and protect. Sacrificing safety, for the amount of risks that are associated with the oil and gas industry, is clearly wrong.
If the United States is going to continue its work with the oil and gas industries, then we need to have the tools to protect our people and environment. Safety standards are put in place because people can get hurt, and they have already. We don’t want it to happen again.
This year, remember the BP oil disaster and speak up for the ocean and safety. Don’t let the oil and gas industries call all the plays.
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