Deepwater Horizon: A Legacy of Environmental Irresponsibility

Image via Newsweek

On January 16th, 2018, BP announced a payout of $1.7 billion for the year of 2017, nearing the end of the years-long compensation process for those impacted by the company’s 2010 oil spill, the largest and most deadly in the country’s history. The 2010 spill devastated local tourism industries, fisheries and other businesses surrounding the Gulf of Mexico in states such as Florida, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana. The $1.7 billion the company paid in compensation at the end of 2017 represents a small fraction of the total estimated cost of $65 billion that will be paid in reparations by the end of the process.

Of course, no amount of compensation could offset the irreversible damages local businesses and vulnerable aquatic ecosystems sustained throughout the 87 days of the spill.  Nearly 5 million barrels of oil were spilled into the ocean in what is often referred to as the worst environmental disaster in the history of the United States. Researchers collected thousands of carcasses, but experts agree the actual number of marine deaths could have exceeded 50 times the number of carcasses collected, which greatly impacted important food chains and the general stability of ecosystems in the region. Additionally, microbes in the ocean feed on the spilled oil, leading to a massive process of deoxygenation of the ocean that could threaten wildlife on an even greater scale. 1,100 miles of shoreline, 1,200 square miles of deep-ocean floor and 68,000 square miles of surface water were contaminated. Finally, and perhaps most forebodingly, oil buried beneath the surface of shorelines and the ocean floor could cause further complications and delay the region’s environmental recovery for decades to come.

In addition to the spill’s astronomical environmental effects, Gulf Shore businesses and tourism industries were brought to the brink of shutting down, costing billions in losses and reshaping local economies in the long term. Several studies estimate that damages to recreational and mariculture fisheries in the region could amount to $8.7 billion dollars by 2020. In addition, upwards of 22,000 jobs could be lost as a result of the spill’s impact on the industry. Finally, tourism industry losses in the Gulf Coast were expected to total $22.7 billion by 2013.

The BP oil spill doesn’t represent a single, isolate accident but rather an inevitable consequence of unchecked corporate behavior that constantly puts the environment, the economy and livelihoods at risk in order to make a greater profit. BP’s actions were called negligent and irresponsible; however, it would be unwise to assume other offshore drilling companies implement more environmentally-sound behavior. It is up to the American people to provide accountability for these companies and advocate for stronger regulatory policies that safeguard our country’s ecosystems, ensure our communities’ wellbeing and incentivize responsible corporate behavior in our country’s oceans.

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