FOUR years ago this Sunday, BP’s Macondo well in the Gulf of Mexico blew out, destroying the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, killing 11 workers and setting off an uncontrolled oil gusher lasting 87 days. By the time the flow was stopped, an estimated 200 million gallons of oil had entered the ocean.
The harm to gulf wildlife has been long-lasting if not fully understood. One recent study found that dolphins in the gulf region were suffering from problems consistent with exposure to oil: lung damage and low levels of adrenal hormones, which are important for responding to stress. Another study found that bluefin and yellowfin tuna sustained heart damage, which suggests likely harm to other fish as well. Another legacy has been the oiling of marshes along the coast, which has exacerbated coastline erosion by killing grasses that help keep the shoreline intact.
One of us, Liz Birnbaum, had for nine months been head of the government agency that regulated the offshore drilling industry when the spill began. We were both horrified to discover that the best efforts of industry and government engineers could not stop the spill for months.
We would never have imagined so little action would be taken to prevent something like this from happening again. But, four years later, the Obama administration still has not taken key steps recommended by its experts and experts it commissioned to increase drilling safety. As a result, we are on a course to repeat our mistakes. Making matters worse, the administration proposes to expand offshore drilling in the Atlantic and allow seismic activities harmful to ocean life in the search for new oil reserves.