Remember the Deepwater Horizon oil spill? You may not, since most of us have the attention span of gnats and if it isn’t buzzing on our phones right this instant it doesn’t exist, but here’s a refresher.
In April, 2010, the Deepwater Horizon oil rig was happily drilling away at the seafloor in the Gulf of Mexico when—whoops—it exploded. Top of the line tech, a rig only a decade old, one that was held to the exacting standards of modern oil industry inspections and everything. Yet it blew itself to kingdom come and sank to the bottom of the gulf. Eleven workers were killed.
For three months after the explosion, oil poured from the hole drilled in the seafloor 5,000 feet below the surface. About 210 million barrels of oil were spilled. Untold numbers of marine animals died in the years following the spill. Millions of pounds of oil-soaked detritus were removed from Gulf Coast beaches. Millions of dollars were lost in the tourism and fishing industries, too. It was a disaster of Biblical proportions, if anybody back in the Biblical days could have even imagined such a thing.
In the aftermath, BP, which owned the rig, ended up paying a couple billion dollars to settle claims against them for the damage. They faced criminal charges, too, for (hold onto your hat here) lying to Congress about safety measures undertaken. Not to mention the safety inspections themselves were often skipped because of “bad weather” or the entire rig was examined for a whopping 2 hours.
So where am I going with all these bad memories?
Well, in 2016, the White House and the Department of the Interior, following the spill, enacted a series of rules meant to prevent such a thing from happening again. Requirements about complex machinery that would be mandated in order to seal off compromised wells, for one thing. But probably more important, inspections by independent government and environmental watchdog groups would be the new normal.
But, last week, the Trump administration and the newly-confirmed Interior Department secretary, David Bernhardt, a former oil industry lobbyist (shocking, I know), announced they were rescinding those rules to make it easier and more profitable to drill for oil. Oil companies must really be struggling these days.
Oil rigs will no longer need to be examined by regulators working for the government. They get to return to standards they themselves set for safety, which was how it worked before the Deepwater Horizon disaster.
“Incorporating the best available science, best practices and technological innovations of the past decade, the rule eliminates unnecessary regulatory burdens while maintaining safety and environmental protection offshore,” Bernhardt, a former oil industry lobbyist said, presumably with a straight face. “Under President Trump’s leadership, America is a leader on energy resulting in greater security and economic prosperity.”
Oh, shitcanning the safety rules will save the oil industry a billion dollars over the next decade, but that’s surely a coincidence.
Guess who was stoked about rescinding the rules meant to protect the marine ecosystem from oil companies who want to drill the shit out of it? The American Petroleum Institute. Guess who was not? Pretty much any organization charged with safeguarding the environment.
“The well control rule was one of the most important actions we took, as a nation, in response to the BP-style disaster at sea,” Natural Resources Defense Council spokesman Bob Deans said. “The rule draws directly from lessons learned from that debacle. It creates tools to help reduce the risk of these dangerous industrial operations at sea.”
What does this mean for you, a surfer, presumably one who wants a clean(ish) ocean to surf in? Hopefully nothing at all. Companies like BP don’t want their rigs to explode. They don’t want to lose out on billions in oil money because their oil is leaking throughout the Gulf of Mexico, or along the Atlantic seaboard. It’s in their best interest to prevent such a thing.
But relying on the oil industry to police itself resulted, in, well, one of the worst man-made natural disasters in history.
Ask gulf surfers how that worked out for them.
Then, consider that the White House wants desperately to open up the Atlantic coast to more oil drilling, and has proposed mapping the seafloor to get that ball rolling. They’ve even proposed doing the same along the California coast, which will be a hell of a thing if that’s ever seriously pursued.
But claims that new tech would make drilling safer were all the talk before the Deepwater Horizon debacle. We all know what’s coming. More of the same.