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June 15, 2010

Frustrations Spill Over with Gulf Coast Response

Not long after the explosion at its Deepwater Horizon rig killed 11 workers nearly two months ago, BP told the press that the damaged offshore drilling unit was spewing out 1,000 barrels a day. Then, under pressure to confirm that number, BP said it might be 5,000 barrels a day. Over the past few weeks, that number has climbed, and climbed again. The latest evidence indicates that the offshore drilling unit is now gushing 40,000 barrels a day, and perhaps as many as 70,000 barrels a day. If we take the higher figure and subtract the 15,000 barrels that BP is recovering each day and multiply it by 57 days, that’s more than 3 million barrels that has been drawn from the Earth and into the ocean. With 42 gallons in a barrel, that’s more than 130,000,000 gallons spewing into one of the most fragile marine ecosystems in the world, with endangered turtles, recovering brown pelicans, dolphins, and countless other species.

Members of The Humane Society of the United States' Oil Spill Assessment Team
Michelle Riley/The HSUS

The devastating Exxon Valdez spill—the effects of which are still being felt today—was 257,000 barrels, or 10,800,000 gallons. That spill tarred 1,300 miles of coastline and 11,000 square miles of ocean. To this day, experts report that you can dig just a little below the land surface in some areas, and still find oil now two decades later.

The Deepwater Horizon well is producing the equivalent of a new Exxon Valdez spill every four or five days. And it’s happening in a subtropical ecosystem that is teeming with life.

Traveling throughout the Gulf during the past couple of days did not leave me feeling assured that the response, led by BP and the federal government, is adequate. They are dealing with a spreading menace, now infiltrating a vast area covering four states. The birds and other marine life there are in imminent peril.

Today, executives from the five largest oil companies—BP America, ConocoPhillips, Chevron, Shell, and Exxon Mobil—testified before the House Energy and Commerce Committee. BP spent .06 percent of its profits on technology to prevent catastrophic risks, according to Rep. Jay Inslee, D-Wash. Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., put up on television screens images of the companies’ disaster response plans, and they were strikingly similar. At least three of the reports, in their section on the Gulf, talked about walruses when they discussed wildlife. Since walruses have not been seen in the Gulf at least since the last Ice Age, the plan shows some obvious deficiencies.

The companies' assurances that they had this under control were overstated at every step of the process.

President Obama addresses the nation tonight on the calamity. Now that this crisis is in such sharp focus, the Administration needs a major step-up in the wildlife response, as I detailed in yesterday’s blog. There’s no greater wildlife crisis in the world than what’s happening in the Gulf right now, and it will take a dramatic step-up in personnel and money and a more coordinated and strategic approach to face this challenge.

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