Was BP’s Oil Spill Response Adequate?

9/18/10 by Melissa McGovern

Photo courtesy of Mike Licht at NotionsCapital.com via Flickr

For many people around the world, watching gallons upon gallons of black oil ooze into the Gulf of Mexico has been a devastating experience.  What’s worse is that it has lasted for months, causing it to become the worst offshore oil spills in the history of the United States.

I hate reading about the oil spill and watching it on TV because I feel so powerless.  I nearly cried when I found out that so many sea turtles had died, and I can barely get myself to look at the pictures of the animals that have suffered because of the spill.  But what infuriated me most was seeing how Tony Hayward, the ousted CEO of BP, acted in the news.  He seemed indifferent about the spill, so I was skeptical that BP’s oil response would be adequate.

BP’s Tony Hayward initially told the media that since the Gulf of Mexico is a very big ocean, the spill was very tiny in relation to the total water volume.  But Hayward was wrong.  Economies in the area have been hard hit by the spill and BP has had to pay an exorbitant amount of money for the loss of income and property value that the oil spill caused.  Many people who used to visit the area for beach vacations and fishing trips have cancelled their visits, which has further impacted the local economy.  The federal government’s cap on paying for costs associated with oil pollution is $75 million, but BP has far exceeded that amount in paying for the damages that the spill has caused thus far.  In early September, BP oil spill costs hit $8 billion.

BP injected dispersants into the water in order to break up the oil. The dispersants, which work like detergent, were somewhat successful in diminishing the spread of the oil.  BP also tried to contain the leaks with huge domes.  The final solution was building a relief well about 2.5 miles beneath the sea.  Cement and mud have to be pumped down through the relief well in order to seal the rupture from the bottom.  As of this writing, authorities expect the leak to be sealed at any minute.  In mid-July, a temporary cap was fitted and mud cement was poured down into the blown-out well, but the leak can only be sealed permanently if it is sealed from the bottom.

It will take scientists years to determine how much damage this oil spill has caused our environment.  As of early August, half of the oil that spilled was still in the environment.  And although the government told the public that the flow rate of the oil was about 5,000 barrels per day, environmental groups suspect that it was actually far more than that.  If both BP and the government had prepared to deal with an oil spill of this magnitude, this blowout would have been sealed in days, not months.

BP’s not the only organization under scrutiny now; environmental groups are accusing the Obama administration of hiding facts about the oil spill and its consequences on the environment.  So, was BP’s oil spill response adequate?  Only time will tell…

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