Oceanographer Ian MacDonald testified recently that 50 percent of the oil spewed from BP’s well is still in the Gulf of Mexico. This means about 100 million gallons of oil—the equivalent of 9 Exxon Valdez spills—continue to endanger the fish, wetlands, and coastal areas that sustain the Gulf region and its economy.
And yet, our Senators went home last Thursday to campaign for the midterm elections without passing key legislation to prevent this kind of disaster from happening again.
You would think that Congress would waste no time in reforming how we drill for oil in the wake of this unprecedented catastrophe.
After all, in the aftermath of the blow out, lawmakers held more than 50 congressional hearings scrutinizing what led to the disaster. Representatives from both parties howled with outrage over the too-cozy relationship between the federal government and the industry they regulate.
But somehow this outrage did not turn into action. The House passed a strong reform bill in August, but the Senate never voted on spill legislation.
This failure is shocking, especially to anyone who has traveled to the Gulf. Just a few weeks ago, I flew over Bay Jimmy off the coast of Louisiana. The pilot punched our location into his GPS and discovered the bay is 117 miles as the crow flies from the Macondo well site, and yet five months after the explosion, the place remains heavily oiled.
Indeed, I was surprised by how much oil I could still see. I didn’t see the massive slicks I could back in June, but there was enough oil to blacken marshlands and keep small fleets of boats busy with clean up.
Looking down from the plane, I could see how far and wide the oil had traveled. The scale of the problem was so big that it was almost ludicrous to see crews trying to suck up the oil with a four-inch diameter vacuum hose.
When spills can reach this size and our cleanup tools remain this limited, clearly prevention is the only real option.
And that is where our leaders come in. As I explain in my new book, In Deep Water: The Anatomy of a Disaster, the Fate of the Gulf, and How to End our Oil Addiction, not only should they pass clean energy legislation to reduce our reliance on oil, but they should also make offshore drilling safer.
Last week, the Obama Administration’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement issued a new rule that strengthened oversight of offshore drilling operations. That is a good step, but now we need the Senate to act.
Senator Reid introduced a bill that would put important safeguards in place, including strengthening requirements for oil spill response plans and toughening offshore leasing standards so they account for risks to other uses of the sea, like fishing. The bill would also eliminate the $75 million cap on damages from an oil spill.
Senator Reid has previously vowed to resurrect the spill bill in the lame duck session this fall, but the legislation appears to be dropping on the priority list. At this rate, it could easily get bumped off the crowded agenda.
You can help change that. You can click here to demand your Senators take action as soon as they return to Washington. You can call their local offices and ask what they are doing to advance oil spill protections. And you can hold laggards accountable at the voting booth.
Remember: 11 men died on the Deepwater Horizon rig, in part because BP and its contractors were allowed to cut safety corners, make reckless design decisions, and file laughably inadequate emergency response plans. Fishermen and their families, men and women who make their living in tourism, and the marine creatures and wetland ecosystems of the Gulf are paying the price.
No one should be asked to do so again.