A piece of machinery costing .004% of BP’s 2009 profits might have prevented the Gulf of Mexico oil spill that is currently threatening the U.S. gulf coast. An acoustic valve designed as a final failsafe to prevent oil spills costs $500,000; the Wall Street Journal writes that the valve, while not proven effective, is required on oil rigs in Norway and Brazil, but not in the U.S.. BP is spending $6 million a day to corral and contain the spill; the company’s profits for 2009 amounted to $14 billion. The Journal also reports that British oil giant BP was one of several companies that wrote to a US government agency arguing against stricter safety rules for offshore drilling, arguing that further regulation was not necessary since current voluntary restrictions were adequate. Adequate?
In late-breaking developments on the spill, the Associated Press quotes National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency chief David Kennedy: “I am frightened. This is a very, very big thing. And the efforts that are going to be required to do anything about it, especially if it continues on, are just mind-boggling.”
An emergency shrimp season was declared in Louisiana to allow shrimp fishermen to scoop up a last haul of the seafood before the oil slick hits.
The official cause of the explosion on the rig last week in which 11 workers died is still under investigation. Earlier estimates of the amount of oil dispersing from the downed rig have been raised to as much as 5,000 barrels (210,000 gallons) a day as a third leak was spotted in the pipeline that connected the rig to the well head. The slick, estimated to cover some 4,700 square miles, is bearing down on the fragile ecosystem of the Louisiana coastline.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs on Thursday acknowledged that the recent spill “will be considered” in a planned expansion of oil drilling and will become a part of the climate change debate. This is something of a reversal from last week, when Gibbs said that the explosion on the rig is no reason to give up plans to expand offshore drilling.
The economic effects pale next to the dreadful toll this is bound to take on living creatures around the Gulf: water birds, star fish, plant life, manatees–the list goes on. Dolphins and whales have been sighted near the spill, which is heading for the fragile wetlands of the Louisiana coast that have yet to recover from Hurricane Katrina.
Wildlife experts are on standby, preparing to capture and care for the oiled birds and mammals that are bound to suffer as the oil hits shore. UC Davis professor of clinical wildlife health Michael Ziccardi reports that while the spill is still at sea, the creatures most at risk are sea turtles. Once the shoreline is impacted, marine birds will feel the effects immediately. Professor Ziccardi noted that “the Mississippi Flyway is a critical thoroughfare for migratory birds, and is now experiencing its peak migratory period.”
What good could come from this event? Can we realize that the true price of fossil fuel consumption includes mind-boggling costs in lives (human and non-human), environment and economy? Can we, as a nation, finally admit that offshore drilling, which will only become more treacherous and challenging as companies drill for oil in harder to reach places and more perilous conditions, must not be expanded to yet more parts of the U.S. coastline?
Sign the Care2 petition Prevent Another Oil Spill: Rethink Offshore Drilling today.
Photo: NASA image of oil slick visible from space courtesy the MODIS Rapid Response Team