A 14-year-long oil spill in Gulf of Mexico

Today the National Post reported on an oil spill that has been taking place in the Gulf of Mexico for 14 years, and is soon to surpass the 2010 BP oil spill in barrels of oil spilled. 

The wake of a vessel crosses over an oil sheen drifting from the site of the former Taylor Energy oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico, off the coast of Louisiana in this 2015 photo. AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, originally posted in The National Post.

The Post reports: "Between 300 and 700 barrels of oil per day have been spewing from a site 12 miles off the Louisiana coast since 2004, when an oil-production platform owned by Taylor Energy sank in a mudslide triggered by Hurricane Ivan. Many of the wells have not been capped, and federal officials estimate that the spill could continue through this century. With no fix in sight, the Taylor offshore spill is threatening to overtake BP’s Deepwater Horizon disaster as the largest ever."

This spill has been largely unknown to the public due to efforts to keep the problem a secret "in the hopes of protecting its reputation and proprietary information about its operations, according to a lawsuit that eventually forced the company to reveal its cleanup plan," according to the Post.

The National Response Centre (NRC) is the "designated federal point of contact for reporting" oil and other hazardous spills according to its website. In this case its reports have been "unreliable" according to Oscar Garcia-Pineda, a geoscience consultant who specializes in remote sensing of oil spills, due to the NRC's consistent underreporting of the size of this spill.

In the context of BP drilling offshore Nova Scotia, this long-term spill can tell us a lot. While the US and Canada treat offshore drilling very differently from a regulatory perspective, we can draw lessons from the US experience with the industry.

1. Spills happen, big and small. 

The Post reports that "On average, 330,000 gallons of crude are spilled each year in Louisiana from offshore platforms and onshore oil tanks, according to a state agency that monitors them," and 

"For every 1,000 wells in state and federal waters, there’s an average of 20 uncontrolled releases of oil — or blowouts — every year. A fire erupts offshore every three days, on average, and hundreds of workers are injured annually."

There are consistent oil spills, accidents, and injuries associate with this industry. Do we really want to allow it to get a foothold in Nova Scotia's waters?

2. Companies are consistently not held to account for the environmental and social costs of their operations.

Taylor Energy has been spilling without recourse for 14 years. Following BP's spill in the Gulf, the company paid out $15B to settle all criminal and civil penalties for their disaster, according to leading energy analyst and journalist Antonia Juhasz. This pales in comparison to the true cost of $192B, which Juhasz calculated using "a straightforward application of just the most pertinent U.S. laws."

We see the same lack of accountability in Canada. In 2016 Shell dropped several kilometers of drilling pipe into the ocean by mistake, and it landed just metres from the well head. This near miss could have been a complete disaster, and we were spared simply by blind luck. Shell was permitted to leave this pipe in place and there was no punishment or penalty.

In June 2018 BP spilled 136,000L of synthetic drilling mud from its rig into the ocean. It likely sank to the bottom of the ocean, coating the ocean floor with a layer of thick sludge. An investigation is ongoing, so I should reserve judgment until all the facts are in, but I can say that when a similar spill happened in 2004 not far from BPs current lease in Nova Scotia the responsible company was not penalized for this spill, and the fluid remains on the ocean floor.

3. There is no space for this industry in our just and sustainable future.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has made the reality of climate change extremely clear: climate change is worse than we thought, and we’re doing less than we promised. Read all about our response to that report here, but in short I can say that continued fossil fuel development and expansion is completely incompatible with a livable, safe climate future.

4. We need to fight back against corporate influence over our democracy and energy policy.

As we’ve said many times before, corporations have far too much influence over our governments. We currently have an offshore petroleum board dominated by industry players, a public disempowered by a lack of information and influence on decision makers, and a company putting our oceans at risk without recourse. This is corporate capture.

What is the antidote? Community organizing. We need people like you to join organizations like ours so we can use our collective power to drive a wedge in the cozy relationship between the fossil fuel industry and our governments. So far, on the offshore drilling front, we’re seeing incredible organizing happening at the municipal level and as a result municipalities in Nova Scotia are speaking up against the Offshore Petroleum Board and the federal government’s approval of BP’s offshore drilling project.

We need you. Join us today by signing this petition, joining the Campaign to Protect Offshore Nova Scotia, or contacting us directly at atlantic@canadians.org