On Saturday, rumors began to circulate the gulf coast of a new oil spill. Louisiana Bayoukeepers, Tracy and Mike, and Hurricane Creekkeeper, John, rented a plane to take a closer look that same day. Information trickled in that boom was being set up along South Pass after oil was seen arriving on the shoreline. By late Saturday afternoon, the new oil spill was reported to be around 100 miles long and only 3 miles off Grand Isle, LA. On Sunday, Tracy and Mike took their boat to monitor the coastline from a different perspective. All weekend, the US Coast Guard repeated their statement that this new oil sheen was nothing more than a mix of Mississippi River silt and small traces of oil. But we knew better. Silt doesn’t smell like that. Silt doesn’t look like that. We Waterkeepers know our waters.
Late yesterday afternoon, The Times Picayune published a story that a shallow gulf well was the source of this new spill. And then later last night, the Times Picayune posted a new article titled, “Houston Company Accepts Responsibility for Oil Spill off Louisiana”. What we dreaded had happened again, a new oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico was confirmed. Our communities haven’t recovered, Clean Water Act fines haven’t been administered, and BP has yet to pay all the claims Gulf coast residents have submitted, but oil was washing up on our shores once more.
There is no doubt that the BP oil disaster that lasted 87 days was the largest environmental disaster in the United States. Spills no one ever notices and spills that get reported to the Coast Guard happen all the time in the Gulf, but they usually don’t make headlines. The fact that this one did might be a good sign. It might mean that we are starting to pay attention to an industry that has caused so much damage to our environment. It might mean that we are headed in a direction that could save our gulf.
The Gambit, a local New Orleans newspaper, published a story called Built to Spill. The article details that less than 1 in 100 oil spills in the Gulf result in a fine, effectively creating a financial incentive to pollute. If it costs more to update equipment and ensure oil spills don’t happen than it does to pollute and a corporation has a legal requirement to make the most profits possible for their shareholders, then why wouldn’t an oil company pollute? It makes financial sense. But only if you don’t take into account the full cost of an oil spill.
As we learned from the BP oil disaster, the full cost of an oil spill is more than the price of some boom and a good PR person. It also includes lost income from local fishermen, health care for children who inhale dispersants, and long term testing of both marine life and human life. Oil spills happen in the Gulf of Mexico all the time, but it isn’t everyday that people pay attention. It’s time we start. It’s time we stop having to react to environmental disasters. It’s time we start building a more sustainable economy, creating a safer energy industry, and protecting what we have left while there’s still time.