One year after the worst oil spill in U.S. history, a sorry legacy of enduring damage, a people wronged and a region scarred remains. The BP oil rig that exploded killed 11 workers and spewed some 170 million gallons of toxic crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico. Whether we look to habitat and wildlife, employment and pay, or basic health and family welfare, the BP oil blowout has devastated the region. The people of the Gulf Coast still live with the disaster every day.
Americans have the right to ask: are we any safer today? At the broadest level, the answer is no. Congress has failed to act on the lessons learned from the long chain of documented misjudgments, operational failings and oversight mistakes that led to the blowout. The oil industry, unbowed by a calamity of its own making, and its Washington allies are resisting reforms that would make drilling safer. And the administration has settled for half measures instead of the robust overhaul of safeguards it promised.
We cannot continue to place the lives of our workers, the health of our waters, the survival of coastal economies, and the wildlife of the Gulf of Mexico at greater and greater risk to sustain our costly and dangerous dependence on oil. There is a better way. Our leaders in Washington must restore the Gulf, make its people whole, and put the lessons learned to use. That means making drilling safer so a disaster like this never happens again, and moving toward clean energy sources that can’t spill or run out. There is no better way to honor the men who lost their lives and the people still struggling to keep their livelihoods afloat.
Determining the ecological impacts of even relatively small oil spills is tricky business. The scale, duration, and location of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill makes this ecological assessment one of the most challenging in history. Oil, gas, and chemical dispersants contaminated an unprecedented array of marine and coastal habitats—from the sea floor to the surface, far offshore and onshore at beaches and in marshlands. Research to date on the oil spill and its aftermath has shed some light on the level of complexity within Gulf ecosystems and how they respond to environmental assaults.
Gaining a real understanding of those systems and responses, however, will take scientists many years. In the wake of the Exxon Valdez disaster, for instance, ecological studies were not published until three years after the spill, while research on chronic harm took 10 years.
We have a long way to go!