A few months after the BP Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded in flames, sending 210 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, President Obama said that "... one of the lessons we've learned from this spill is that we need better regulations, better safety standards, and better enforcement when it comes to offshore drilling."
These remarks were just one voice in a wave of outrage that rippled far beyond the coast in the wake of the worst oil spill in United States history. You might assume that, four years after the spill, the U.S. would have implemented the safeguards and policies needed to prevent similar disasters. But you'd be wrong. We've made little progress in preventing future spills, and the situation is getting worse.
Since the BP oil disaster, there have been hundreds of oil spills every year across the country. Just a month ago, a barge in Galveston Bay, Texas, spilled nearly 170,000 gallons of toxic fuel oil into the Gulf. A spill on the Kalamazoo River in 2010 now claims the title of the largest inland spill in U.S. history, dumping 877,000 gallons into the Michigan waterway. In November 2012, the Black Elk Energy explosion resulted in the deaths of three workers and spilled more than 20,000 gallons of oil into the Gulf.
Instead of limiting drilling and improving safety, the administration is pushing for more drilling in difficult and sensitive terrain. The government continues to push for drilling in the U.S. Arctic Ocean, where the conditions are so rough that Shell's test-drilling platform literally ran aground during an average winter storm. Moreover, drilling offshore is frequently taking place in deep water, with much more dangerous conditions. Finally, the administration just green-lighted seismic blasting in the Atlantic -- a method of exploring for oil and gas deposits deep beneath the ocean floor -- despite the fact that the government's own science showed doing so could injure at least 138,200 dolphins and whales.
Data from the Gulf shows that offshore oil drilling and spills are extremely destructive to the ocean, even years after the spill occurs. A study published last month revealed toxic components in oil -- including some that are known to be associated with cancer -- generated from the oil spill caused heart defects in commercial fish species, including tuna and amberjack. And in February, a 1,250-pound tar mat washed ashore in Pensacola, Florida.
Though we can't fix the past, we can take decisive, concrete steps to ensure a disaster of this magnitude never occurs again. Spills are an unavoidable part of oil drilling -- if you drill, you will spill. We need to be careful about where we drill and avoid places like the Atlantic and Arctic. Fortunately, there are alternatives. Offshore wind is a vast source of renewable, spill-free energy. Earlier this month, the Senate Finance Committee voted to extend the critical investment tax credit for offshore wind development until the end of 2015. This is one more step in securing necessary incentives that can allow this growing industry to take advantage of the nation's vast offshore wind potential. With your help, we can end this cycle of drill, spill, repeat.