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Apr 202011

From Green Right Now Reports

Environmentalists marking the one-year anniversary of the BP oil spill remain angry that oil companies drilling in deep waters continue to operate with little accountability while enjoying record profits.

The BP oil spill soiled 1,000 miles of shoreline, from delicate marshlands in Louisiana to white sand tourist beaches in Florida.

“One year after the catastrophic BP Disaster killed eleven men, spewed hundreds of millions of gallons of toxic oil into the Gulf of Mexico and ruined the livelihoods and health of thousands of working families in the Gulf, not much has changed for Big Oil,” said Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune in a statement. “Oil executives and their lobbyists are raking in millions in bonuses for their ‘best year ever’ and lobbying Congress to open more of our land and water – even the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge – for risky and dangerous drilling.”

Transocean, owner of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig platform involved in the 2010 oil spill, recently handed out bonuses to its executives for having their “best year ever” of safe operations. The company later apologized for the “insensitive” wording on the proxy statement, though not the bonuses. Transocean’s CEO, who got a $200,000 raise for 2011, also got a $374,000 bonus.

The Deepwater Horizon rig, leased by BP, exploded in a burst of flames April 20, 2010, when the pressure from a wellhead overwhelmed safety valves. Eleven crew members were killed and 17 injured in what would turn out to be the biggest inadvertent oil spill ever.

Oil streamed from the broken wellhead deep below the surface and about 50 miles offshore in the Gulf of Mexico, pouring 5 million barrels of crude oil into the ocean before the break was capped on July 15, 2010.

The National Wildlife Federation calls today, one year later, the “anniversary we’re not celebrating,” because so much still needs to be addressed. The cleanup of the vast affected shoreline is incomplete, and while BP has been billed for the disaster, oversight and safety measures for oil drilling have not been tightened. (See the NWF oil spill website for more about volunteer clean ups at beaches and marshes, and info about affected marine life, like dolphins and sea turtles.)

Oil profits soar, supported by tax breaks

Environmental groups, and scores of gulf residents whose livelihood was gut-punched by the spill, remain incensed by the environmental gaffe — BP had little in the way of emergency spill plans — as well as what they see as a mediocre recovery response by the oil company and the U.S. government. Though the U.S. committed more than 47,000 staff from more than a dozen agencies at the height of the response and initial gulf clean up, some residents and environmental groups complain that the tail end effort is too little.

The government has responded with reports about clean beaches, returning tourists and videos showing populated, debris-free beaches, like this one at Pensacola.

Few argue that the U.S. effort was anything other than earnest. But they worry that the region, still struggling with flagging tourism, shredded marsh lands and questions about the safety of the seafood, is facing dwindling attention.  It is hard, residents say, to recover from the triple whammy of the general economic downturn, followed by the loss of business during the oil spill and now the continued blight of the gulf ecosystem. (Hear their stories at the NRDC’s Stories from the Gulf online video project.)

Scientists say it could be decades, before the region’s delicate ecology recovers.

Gulf coast fears are not assuaged by BP’s return to business-as-usual, rejoining other big oil companies that continue to sustain record profits buoyed by large tax breaks, while the rest of the nation suffers under budget cuts and stagnant employment.

Earlier this year, Congressman Edward J. Markey’s (D-Mass.) office pinned a number on the malaise. Arguing that oil companies no longer need billions in tax breaks from American workers, Markey reported that the top five multinational oil companies have made $1 trillion in profits in the past decade.

BP seemed to suffer only a brief financial hiccup after the Gulf oil spill. It returned to profitability in the third quarter of 2010, and to paying dividends early in 2011, effectively covering all the costs of the largest oil spill in history in less than a year. The company may have restored it’s image with stockholders, but the public remains skeptical. The readers of The Consumerist blog recently voted it the Worst Company in America, by a slight margin over financial, heavyweight villian, Bank of America.

While BP and fellow oil companies continue business as usual, drilling in deep ocean waters and planning expansions into delicate arctic regions, environmental advocates say green energy alternatives remain dangerously underfunded.

U.S. lawmakers steeped in oil, ignoring clean alternatives

“The only way to truly protect our communities and our oceans is to end Big Oil’s stranglehold on our economy and break our addiction to oil. Instead of chasing dirty, dead-end fossil fuels, we should be investing in 21st Century transportation solutions like smarter, more fuel-efficient cars and trucks, electric vehicles and mass transit,” Brune said.

The Natural Resources Defense Council’s Peter Lehner also argues that the only sane response to such a monumental fossil fuel disaster would be to turn quickly toward clean energy solutions.

The gulf spill “oiled more than 1,000 miles of coastline and created a slick the size of South Carolina,” Lehner notes in his blog “The Only Real Response to the BP Disaster: Reduce Our Oil Dependence“. “It also cost fishermen $62 million in lost sales and more than $1.5 billion in lost tourism revenue to date.”

But the rich oil and gas lobby, spends billions – $168 million in 2009 alone — to stop Congress from supporting the alternative fuels and efficient cars that could ease the American oil addiction, Lehner argues.

And even though the National Commission on the BP Spill blamed human error and a lack of safety precautions for the BP spill, Congress has not passed one law as a result of the accident, he notes, yet it is considering bills to extend deep water drilling.

Brune also noted a lack of action in Washington on the commission’s recommendations, which include urging the oil industry to adopt a new “culture of safety” and the government to put more money toward oversight by agencies like the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Bills pending in Congress would help corral money for continued gulf restoration, by making sure that 80 percent of the Clean Water Act fines against BP are returned to the region instead of being put into the general budget. The Restore the Gulf Coast Act sets forth formulas to assure that the fines would be shared and fairly distributed among the five affected gulf coast states of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida and Texas.

The act would require the governor of each state, in consultation with the appropriate agencies, to allocate the money to “restore, protect, and make sustainable use of the natural resources, ecosystems, fisheries, marine habitats, coastal wetlands, and economy in his State.” (Or “her” state, should that be the case.) Senators Mary L. Landrieu (D-La.) and David Vitter (R-La.) have introduced the act in the Senate; a similar bill is in the House.