Remembering the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill

A photo of the Deepwater Horizon Fire in the Gulf of Mexico on April 22, 2010. Photo by U.S. Coast Guard

It’s been eight years since the BP Deepwater Horizon oil well blowout in the Gulf of Mexico, the largest oil spill disaster in U.S. history. In vivid, shocking scenes that played out in person and on our television screens, the Deepwater Horizon explosion reminded us of the very real risks associated with offshore drilling.

It seems appropriate on the anniversary of the explosion and ensuing oil spill to remind ourselves of what is at stake — especially in light of the Trump administration’s recent offshore oil drilling proposal.

The administration wants to expand offshore drilling to nearly every square inch of the American coastline. The Gulf is very much part of its plan.

Repeatedly, the administration has called for “energy dominance.” It’s a catchy phrase, powerful even. And until you remember the risks associated with oil drilling and our increasingly abundant renewable energy choices, energy dominance almost sounds good.

But eight years isn’t a long time. We remember the oil-covered wildlife and beaches, the loss of more than $23 billion in tourism-related income, the lost jobs, crushed small businesses and depressed home values. Because we remember, we don’t want a plan that beckons more oil spills.

It would be nice to think that the Deepwater Horizon disaster was unique or a freak occurrence. Unfortunately, the offshore drilling industry doesn’t have a good track record when it comes to spills. According to the Trump Administration's own Department of the Interior, thousands of oil spills occur in U.S. waters each year. Many of these are small, but they add up — especially when factoring in the big spills. Since the Santa Barbara oil well blowout off the California coast in 1969, which at the time was the worst in American history, the United States has experienced at least 44 large oil spills, each dumping over 420,000 gallons of oil (their definition for a large spill) into American waters.

Adding insult to injury, the Trump administration has also proposed rolling back key safety regulations put in place following the Deepwater Horizon spill. Think about that for a second: The administration is removing the lifesaving safety procedures and regulations (recommended by a bipartisan commission) that reduce the likelihood of a Deepwater Horizon-like disaster from happening again. It’s sounding a lot like a prescription for history to repeat itself.

Thankfully, states aren’t sitting on their hands. Governors and other elected officials from both parties are proactively challenging the administration on this potentially devastating and half-baked proposal. As a result of opposition in Florida, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke promised by tweet to remove Florida’s coastal waters from his list. Said Zinke: “Florida is unique and its coasts are heavily reliant on tourism as an economic driver.” It’s hard to imagine other tourism-reliant states feel any different.

Since then, the Department of the Interior has contradicted its leader, saying Florida has not been removed from the plan.

Lately, Zinke says that states opposing the plan are going to be happy with the next version. But after seeing the flip-flopping on whether Florida is in or out, it’s hard to feel comforted by that, and all eyes will be on the second draft of the administration’s plan.

Speculation is that version 2.0 will come out toward the end of the calendar year. When it is unveiled, we hope that it embraces a new, clear-headed vision for “energy dominance,” one that features solar panels, wind farms and other forms of efficient, renewable energy that don’t put coastal areas and wildlife at risk. 

The American public is ready for that vision. More than 1 million Americans formally voiced opposition to the first version of the Five-Year Plan for offshore oil and gas leasing a plan that exposes America’s oceans, thriving coastal economies, public health, climate and marine life to unacceptable harm.

Eight years after the Deepwater Horizon disaster, Americans from coast to coast are telling the Trump Administration to avoid the offshore drilling mistakes of our recent past. The bottom line is that we neither want nor need to experience the pain and harm of another catastrophic spill.

Luke Metzger

Director, Environment Texas