Inviting disaster: Ignoring the lessons learned from Deepwater Horizon
Eight years ago this month, the Gulf was devastated by the worst oil spill in American history. Following an explosion that killed 11 crew members, the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig sank to the bottom of the ocean, causing 210 million gallons of oil to spill across 1,200 square miles of the Gulf for more than 12 weeks. To date, the disaster at Deepwater Horizon is estimated to have cost the Gulf coastal economy up to $22.7 billion in lost tourism dollars. Nearly 50,000 people involved in cleanup efforts have been exposed to chemicals that severely damage lung tissue and can result in other adverse health impacts.
Since the spill, the federal government has taken a number of steps to prevent future disasters through the creation of the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) to monitor drilling activities and to implement commonsense regulations to improve safety on offshore oil rigs. However, by every indication, the Trump administration is hoping to quietly undo the progress we’ve made and has announced plans to expand drilling to nearly every coast in America, further lining the pockets of the oil and gas industry at the expense of our coastal communities.
In January, along with Reps. Nanette Barragán (D-Calif.) and Charlie Crist(D-Fla.), I introduced the Safe COAST Act to codify two safety regulations put in place after Deepwater Horizon that have since become a target of the Trump administration. These rules, enforced by BSEE, required pressure limits and safety equipment be inspected by third-party independent auditors and certified by BSEE. In December, the Trump administration quietly announced its plans to alter or eliminate these rules in an attempt to minimize the regulatory burden on the oil and gas industry and help meet President Trump’s goal of “energy dominance.”
A month later, Trump’s Interior Secretary, Ryan Zinke, released a draft five-year proposal to open up more than 90 percent of America’s coasts to offshore oil and gas drilling in the Atlantic, Arctic, Pacific, and the Gulf of Mexico, with drilling allowed a mere three miles of the U.S. shoreline in certain locations. Opposition to this announcement was swift and overwhelming. Hundreds of municipalities, coastal business leaders, commercial fishing communities, and environmental advocates condemned the administration’s announcement, highlighting the threats to coastal communities, businesses, and the environment. However, Secretary Zinke has since only granted a reprieve to Florida Gov. Rick Scott, an embarrassingly obvious political move designed to assist him in his run for the U.S. Senate.
The Trump administration has argued that regulations on drilling activity are overly burdensome and that elimination of certain rules would save the energy industry more than $200 million dollars over ten years. However, a disaster on the scale of Deepwater Horizon costs Americans trillions of dollars in cleanup and lost revenue, and the Gulf of Mexico is expected to produce more oil than ever this year. Additionally, in 2016 alone, more than 400 incidents of human error or hurricane damage were reported on offshore rigs. With extreme weather and hurricanes becoming more frequent, the risks presented by expanded oil drilling with fewer regulations are made even worse.
The Deepwater Horizon disaster could have been prevented. The bipartisan presidential commission appointed to study the disaster concluded that management of risk by oil producers “place in doubt the safety culture of the entire industry.” Reports like these led to the creation of BSEE, as well as the subsequent measures designed to prevent a future spill. Is the Trump administration prepared to ignore years of lessons-learned and countless Americans who have voiced opposition simply to boost the profits of corporate oil? Are they willing to assume responsibility for another environmental catastrophe that could endanger lives and destroy America’s coastal communities?
One thing is for sure: the rolling back of regulations mixed with the expansion of drilling sites is a recipe for disaster, the blame for which the Trump administration will certainly own. I urge my colleagues to join me in acting to codify these regulations and condemning the decision to expand offshore drilling. Congress must assert itself if we are to avoid disaster.
Price represents North Carolina’s 4th District