The second anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon disaster is upon us - and looking at the lessons the oil industry got from it, you’d think it never happened. Here are the most important points governments and oil companies didn’t learn:
1) Apparently the oil industry still knows best. Remember all the congressional hearings, recommendations, pledges to do better in the future that immediately followed Deepwater Horizon? It all amounted to essentially nothing. The US Congress has not adopted a single piece of legislation (not one!) to put stricter controls over oil companies to limit the ever-increasing risks they are taking to drill for more oil. Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, governments still seem to think that the oil industry knows best and can police itself.
2) Oil spill plans are not foolproof. Remember the surprising tidbits found in BP’s oil spill response plan after the fact? Like how walruses were some of the local wildlife that might be impacted? Well, Shell’s oil spill response plan for their Arctic drilling operations has just breezed through the approval process, and while they did seem to have at least proofread it, it’s not much better: it currently relies on technology that hasn’t been built yet, admits it won’t be able to clean up oil in thick ice and ignores the risks of a Deepwater Horizon-style blowout late in the drilling season, just before ice starts to return.
3) It takes a lot of capacity to clean up an oil spill. Over 6,000 vessels and tens of thousands of people were needed to respond to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Shell is planning to drill in Alaska this summer and has named just nine ships in their oil spill response plan for the Chukchi Sea. Alaska is far more remote than the Gulf, less populated, and the US Coast Guard admitted that there was “no way we could deploy several thousand people as we did in the Deepwater Horizon.”
4) Out of sight does not mean out of the ocean. Life in the Gulf of Mexico has been significantly hit by oil in the past two years. While beaches may look clean, the story at the bottom of the ocean is different. A similar spill in the Arctic would be devastating for local wildlife and Indigenous communities.
5) We need to quit oil. It’s almost a tick-box: after every oil disaster in history, there have been inevitable promises, wide op-eds in newspapers, and consensus that the world can’t stay addicted to oil (other tick-boxes include: saying that everyone will be justly compensated, that nothing like this will happen again because security norms will be reinforced, and finding someone else to blame). Yet, nothing happens. We have technology today to reduce our oil consumption, we know how to spark an energy revolution, but we are held back by those who profit from dirty energy.