Six Years After BP Oil Spill Disaster, Public Opinion Turns Against Dangerous Deep Water Oil Drilling

Posted April 27, 2016

MP3 Interview with Antonia Juhasz, energy analyst, author and investigative reporter, conducted by Scott Harris


Six years after the largest oil spill in U.S. history in the Gulf of Mexico, the nation is still trying to assess the long-term economic and environmental destruction. The man-made disaster began on April 20, 2010 after an explosion aboard British Petroleum's Deepwater Horizon oil rig that killed 11 workers and spilled 4.9 million barrels of crude oil into Gulf waters. The spill was even larger than previously calculated. Scientists from the federal government's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and several private research companies found oil along 1,313 miles out of 5,930 miles of surveyed shoreline in Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, Florida, and Texas, making the disaster the largest marine oil spill in history.

Less than three weeks before the sixth anniversary of the oil spill, U.S. Judge Carl Barbier granted final approval to a civil settlement with BP to pay up to $18.7 billion in penalties to the U.S. government and five states. U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said in a statement, "Today's action holds BP accountable with the largest environmental penalty of all time while launching one of the most extensive environmental restoration efforts ever undertaken."

Between The Lines' Scott Harris spoke with Antonia Juhasz, an energy analyst, investigative reporter and author of the book, "Black Tide: The devastating Impact of the Gulf Oil Spill.” Here she explains that the critical hazards of deep-sea, off-shore oil drilling witnessed in the BP disaster, have not changed how the industry or government regulators operate, but has changed public opinion.

ANTONIA JUHASZ: It's very clear what caused the disaster, what went wrong and that much needed radical change is needed and I think most people would argue that the change that is needed is to stop offshore oil drilling. But at a minimum, dramatic changes in regulations are certainly required. And the Interior Department has tried to implement new regulations to make offshore drilling more safe. But those attempts have fallen way far short and most recently, the Interior Department released 500 pages of new regulations less than two weeks ago for offshore oil drilling. I interviewed several oil industry experts including the lead investigator for the U.S. Chemical Safety Board, which is the main, federal independent agency that investigates industrial incidents such as this one. It's basically the equivalent of a National Transportation Safety Board that looks at transportation accidents. And their investigators say of the regulations, they just don't go nearly far enough. And one the big problems that remains, is that even if we have good regulations, the industry is basically given the opportunity to just check off a checklist that says, "Yes we do this, yes we do that" and then the regulators do not follow up to make sure 1) that the industry can actually do what it says it can do, and then 2) that it is in fact doing it. And they cite that failure as per basis and that because of that, the chances of another BP-like disaster still remains very present today.

Recently, the national resource damage assessment was completed and that was six-year long process for federal agencies, over a dozen state agencies and documented countless environmental and wildlife harm – including, literally, and I'm not exaggerating, trillions of fish species that were killed. It's argued that some species such as dolphins could take over 50 years to recover back to where they were when the disaster struck. There was and continues to be a very harmful impact on fisheries and on what is a very big business in the Gulf of Mexico for "fisher folk" – as they are called – who were harmed and couldn't continue in that business. And what's interesting is that many of those people then turned to the oil sector to find employment because they couldn't work any longer in fisheries. And now the oil sector has collapsed. Hundreds of thousands of jobs worldwide being cut from the oil sector including many cut in the Gulf of Mexico.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Antonia, we only have a few minutes left. But I wanted to reserve a couple of minutes for us to talk about the declining support for offshore oil drilling both in Louisiana and across the U.S.

ANTONIA JUHASZ: I cite a number of polls in my Rolling Stone article which shows a pretty strong increase in opposition to offshore drilling from pre-oil spill to today, from 68 percent supporting it to 52 percent supporting it. But I think even more dramatic is a shift in the American public's general view toward how energy should be provided in this country, such that almost 75 percent of Americans today, the highest percentage since a poll began being taken, support alternative energy, pursuing alternative energy instead of oil and gas development for our energy needs. And most interestingly to me, for the first time, that includes a majority of Republicans.

Antonia Juhasz is author of the book, "Black Tide: The devastating Impact of the Gulf Oil Spill." Read Juhasz's recent article, "Six Years After Gulf Oil Spill, Residents Demand 'No More Drilling,'" published in Rolling Stone, April 20, 2016.

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