The Deepwater Horizon Legacy

British Petroleum's Oil Spill

Brian Merchant marks the three-year anniversary of the rig explosion by checking in on the damage:

Billy Nungresser, the president of Plaquemines Parish, which covers the part of Louisiana most heavily hit by oil after the initial spill, says that the oily fallout continues to this day. Just yesterday, Nungresser told a local TV news station that “oil is still washing ashore in places like Bay Jimmy.”

Meanwhile, fishermen say their catch is still drastically lower than it was before the spill—and the onslaught of chemical dispersants BP used to try to contain it. “The damage is still ongoing right now. My shrimp is down 40 percent and my oysters are down 93 percent,” George Barisich, president of the United Commercial Fisherman’s Association, recently told Eyewitness News. He believes that the dispersant—a proprietary cocktail called Corexit that is believed to be comprised of butoxyethanol, organic sulfonates, and a small concentration of propylene glycol—interrupted the reproductive cycle of the shellfish in the region.

Mark Hertsgaard focuses in on the controversy surrounding Corexit at the time:

Wilma Subra, a chemist whose work on environmental pollution had won her a “genius grant” from the MacArthur Foundation, told state and federal authorities that she was especially concerned about how dangerous the mixture of crude and Corexit was: “The short-term health symptoms include acute respiratory problems, skin rashes, cardiovascular impacts, gastrointestinal impacts, and short-term loss of memory,” she told GAP investigators. “Long-term impacts include cancer, decreased lung function, liver damage, and kidney damage. (Nineteen months after the Deepwater Horizon explosion, a scientific study published in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Pollution found that crude oil becomes 52 times more toxic when combined with Corexit.)

BP even rebuffed a direct request from the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, Lisa Jackson, who wrote BP a letter on May 19, asking the company to deploy a less toxic dispersant in the cleanup. Jackson could only ask BP to do this; she could not legally require it. … Knowing that EPA lacked the authority to stop it, BP wrote back to Jackson on May 20, declaring that Corexit was safe.

Meanwhile, Shiva Polefka is disappointed by Congress’ inaction since the accident:

[T]he legislative branch has yet to pass a single law strengthening federal oversight of offshore oil and gas development. Congress did enact the RESTORE Act which allocates 80 percent of BP’s civil penalties to the affected Gulf Coast states, so they can apply it directly the environmental restoration and economic recovery. …

[O]ther than the RESTORE Act, Congress has done “nothing about the many other critical issues the Commission identified to improve safety and environmental protection.” A year ago, my colleagues at the Center for American Progress highlighted the need for Congress to raise the absurdly low $75 million limit on spill liability that oil companies currently face. While BP voluntarily excluded itself from the cap, the cleanup cost for Deepwater Horizon to date stands at over $14 billion, demonstrating starkly the fiscal as well as environmental risk to the American public from Congressional inaction. Similarly, Congress has refused to codify any new safety standards for offshore drilling. As a result, the gains made through Obama administration rulemaking, and voluntary industry efforts, could easily be easily lost to the whims of the next administration.

(Photo: Crude oil released following the sinking of the BP Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, washes ashore on June 9, 2010 on Grand Terre Island, Louisiana. By Benjamin Lowy/Edit by Getty Images)