Five Years After the BP Oil Disaster, Few Lessons Learned About Dangers of Offshore Drilling

04/21/2015 04:10 pm ET | Updated Jun 21, 2015

Five years ago, an explosion on the BP-operated Deepwater Horizon oil rig killed 11 people and caused the rig to sink in the Gulf of Mexico. By the time responders capped the well 87 days later, an estimated 200 million gallons of oil had spread into the Gulf of Mexico. BP's oil disaster wreaked havoc on fisheries, livelihoods, economies and wildlife throughout the Gulf of Mexico, many of which are still struggling to recover today.

Unfortunately, five years after the largest oil spill in U.S. history, it appears that the federal government has not learned that when you drill, you spill. The anniversary strikes just as the U.S. government is considering opening up the Atlantic to offshore drilling for the first time in decades and authorizing new leasing and exploration in the U.S. Arctic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico.

In January, the Obama Administration proposed opening up the mid and south Atlantic coast from Virginia to Georgia to offshore drilling activity. With the release of its draft five-year plan, the U.S. government has exposed the economies, ecosystems and wildlife along the Atlantic Coast to the same inherent risks that continue to affect the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska's Prince William Sound, home to the largest accidental oil spill in U.S. history until the BP disaster in 2010.

East Coast citizens are crying out against the oil industry coming to their coast, but it seems that neither this -- nor the devastating impacts of the BP disaster -- are enough to protect them from offshore drilling activity. At the time of writing, 52 coastal towns from New Jersey to Florida have passed resolutions opposing or voicing concern with offshore drilling and/or seismic airgun activity, which is the first step to offshore drilling. Additionally, the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council, 65 members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, 400 local elected officials, and over 160 conservation and animal welfare organizations and groups like The Billfish Foundation have called on President Obama in opposition of seismic airguns.

The Atlantic is not the only U.S. coast threatened by offshore drilling activity. Though the federal government fortunately protected some important and sensitive marine habitats in the Arctic Ocean, the draft five-year program includes sales that encompass tens of millions of acres of the Beaufort and Chukchi seas. No oil company has been able to successfully drill a well in the harsh conditions of the Arctic in more than two decades, and the most recent efforts ended with Shell's drill rig infamously grounded near Kodiak, Alaska. What's more, the federal government estimates that if drilling does proceed, there is a 75 percent chance of a major spill occurring in the Chukchi Sea.

President Obama has the opportunity to create a meaningful ocean legacy by protecting the U.S. Atlantic and Arctic from offshore drilling. He has the chance to prevent history from repeating itself, and advocate for clean energy alternatives like offshore wind that do not carry such unavoidable risks. Today's anniversary is a stark reminder that with offshore drilling, accidents do happen, and we still don't have the capability or technology to clean up oil spilled in the ocean.

Oceana has fought for healthy oceans, fisheries and economies for more than a decade -- and will not stop until they are protected from offshore oil exploration. Please join the fight by hosting a screening of Oceana's Drill, Spill, Repeat documentary, or write to President Obama and ask him to protect U.S. coastlines from this dirty practice.