© Krista Schlyer
The oil that bled into the Gulf of Mexico for months last year and caused the death of thousands of animals continues to impact coastal communities and natural habitats. But at press time, Congress has yet to pass legislation that would ensure safer oil- and gas-drilling operations in water of any depth.
“If the explosion of an oil rig that leaves 11 people dead and results in the worst oil spill in our country’s history, devastating Gulf of Mexico communities and wildlife, does not move the Senate to act, what will it take?” asks Defenders’ executive vice president Jamie Rappaport Clark.
The oil slick from BP’s Deepwater Horizon blowout covered thousands of square miles, with at least 650 miles of Gulf Coast shoreline from Louisiana to Florida impacted by oil. The hemorrhage dwarfed the 12 million gallons spilled in the 1989 Exxon Valdez accident—which is still being felt by wildlife in Prince William Sound more than two decades later.
Defenders is calling for safer drilling operations but also wants legislation that provides for a faster and better spill response, lifts the existing liability cap for oil companies and secures funding for restoration efforts in the Gulf. “The continued impacts of this disaster evident in our coastal waters and along the shoreline prove that current oil spill oversight, response capacity and safety standards are simply not sufficient to protect our environment or our coastal communities,” adds Clark. “Unless the Senate passes this legislation, the clock is ticking until the next offshore oil disaster.”
Defenders and other conservation groups also filed a lawsuit under the Endangered Species Act in October against oil giant BP for harming endangered and threatened wildlife. At least 27 imperiled animal species inhabit the Gulf region, including five species of endangered sea turtles, four species of endangered whales and Florida manatees. The lawsuit is calling for the court to mandate that BP provide the resources necessary to help species recover from the disaster.
More than 50 percent of the total discharge of oil from the Deepwater Horizon blowout remains in the Gulf ecosystem, much of it in coastal and marine sediments, experts say. Apart from the immediate impacts on wildlife of exposure to oil and chemical dispersants, scientists are concerned about the long-term effects on reproduction for future generations and the potential domino effects through the Gulf’s food chain.