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Ten years after the Deepwater Horizon offshore oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, the environment, human health and the local economy continue to suffer from the oil spill.
The health crisis caused by the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, given its abruptness, has allowed us, on the one hand, to suddenly glimpse the environmental unsustainability of our way of life and, on the other, to verify the fragility of our economic system.
Although the fight against this pandemic has forced a significant slowdown in our activity worldwide and, consequently, the planet has begun to breathe a little better, we all know that this is a merely conjunctural situation. Meanwhile, we must think about the necessary economic recovery and we must do it remembering that climate change continues to be the main risk for the planet and for Humanity.
Climate change is another planetary emergency that also puts our survival at risk and whose solution (in this case the “vaccine” already exists) also requires urgent and far-reaching measures. Fortunately, initiatives such as the European Alliance for a Green Recovery have already emerged, the aim of which is “to work to build recovery and transformation plans that consecrate the fight against climate change and biodiversity as a key pillar of economic strategy.”
In the new framework of economic recovery to overcome the COVID-19 crisis, not only should low-carbon investments be encouraged, but also all kinds of measures should be applied to discourage the use of coal, oil and gas, the main causes of climate change, as well as legal actions to progressively but urgently abandon its use.
Ten years ago, the disaster caused by the Deepwater Horizon oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico, in which more than 4 million barrels of crude oil (more than 715 million liters, equivalent to what is consumed throughout the country) was released into the sea Spain for almost 4 days) creating a black tide that covered an estimated area of 149,000 km2 (as well as the combined surface of the Basque Country, Catalonia, Valencia, Madrid and Castilla-La Mancha).
On April 20, 2010, the rupture of British Petroleum’s Macondo well caused an explosion in the Deepwater Horizon mobile drilling unit that ultimately led to its sinking and the deaths of 11 crew members. Initial efforts to plug the well after the explosion were unsuccessful, so the uncontrolled discharge of huge amounts of oil and gas continued for 97 days, until on July 15, 2010, almost three months later, the mouth of said well and interrupt the leak of hydrocarbons into the marine environment.
In addition, to try to accelerate the degradation of the crude oil, some 7 million liters of chemical dispersants were applied, three of them directly to the wellhead during the spill and the rest to the contaminated surface. The ecological consequences of the unprecedented use of large amounts of these substances as part of the response to this oil slick are still largely unknown, although there is scientific evidence of the cytotoxicity and genotoxicity of Corexit 9527 and Corexit 9500, the two dispersant products used.
The severity of the Deepwater Horizon accident is not only due to the enormous volume of oil spilled but also because it occurred on the high seas and at great depth (1,500 meters), which facilitated the distribution of oil in a vast area and its deposition in large quantities in the seabed, thus significantly aggravating its ecological impact.
As numerous scientific reports reflect, a decade later, evidence continues to grow that the environment in the Gulf of Mexico is still far from fully recovered and that human health and the local economy continue to suffer from the consequences of the oil spill. This spill caused severe damage to a variety of species and habitats. Toxicological effects have been documented in benthic and pelagic fish communities, communities typical of estuaries, mammals, birds and turtles, deep sea corals, plankton, foraminifera and microbial communities.
Although in the first moments after the disaster, most of the research on its effects focused on surface contamination of coastal habitats and near shore fauna species (including those of fish of commercial interest), in the In recent years, a greater scientific effort has been devoted to analyzing the effects of oil spills on the high seas and on the seabed (where, according to recent calculations, up to 47% of the oil released in the accident was deposited and was not recovered , that is, 80% of the total discharged), in little-known habitats and with few reference data.
The results that are becoming known show that the oceanic species were the ones that were most affected by this spill, as they were directly exposed to unprecedented amounts of hydrocarbons and dispersants. Because of this, the acute and chronic population-level impacts of this exposure were probably higher than initially estimated. Continuous decreases in the presence of different species of marine mammals and turtles have been confirmed, which may be related to less reproductive success and the persistence of a poor state of health (lung diseases, impaired response to stress due to alterations in the adrenal glands , depression of the immune system, etc.),
Regarding fisheries, overall, stocks with a high turnover rate are forecast to occur over the course of this decade, but some slower-growing stocks may take more than 30 years to fully recover.
That of the Deepwater Horizon platform is undoubtedly one of the greatest catastrophes caused by the oil industry, of the many that it has carried out throughout its dirty history. Despite the increasing severity of climate change, oil companies try to continue their polluting business as if that problem did not exist.
In a context of climatic emergency like the current one, it does not make sense to continue carrying out hydrocarbon exploration and exploitation activities. Some countries, such as France, have already passed legislation to end these activities on their national territory.
In Spain, the Draft Law on Climate Change and Energy Transition includes the prohibition of any new hydrocarbon exploration, research and exploitation project throughout the national territory, including the territorial sea, the exclusive economic zone and the continental shelf, but, however, in an inconsistent manner, it allows the extension of research permits and exploitation concessions for hydrocarbon deposits that are in force until December 31, 2042.
On a day like today, the tenth anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe, OceanCare wants to ask the Government to increase the ambition of the Draft Climate Change Bill, prohibiting all hydrocarbon exploration activities (not granting new permits and filing all projects currently in the administrative process) and not granting new extensions to the current exploitation concessions when their respective licenses expire. The granting of these extensions is a purely optional decision by the Administration: not granting them does not generate any right to compensation for lost profits.
We cannot risk another disaster like the Deepwater Horizon reoccurring. OceanCare believes that continuing to bet on the exploration and exploitation of hydrocarbons runs contrary to the international commitments made by the European Union and the Spanish State itself to achieve a deeply decarbonised energy sector, based 100% on savings, efficiency and renewable energies, which are the only sustainable response to the problem of climate change.
Source: El Diario