Friday, July 19, 2019

Deepwater Horizon, Nine Years Later

It has been nine years since the Deepwater Horizon disaster and the effects of the consequent oil spill are still felt today. On the 20th of April 2010, the oil drilling rig Deepwater Horizon exploded resulting in the death of 11 people. Then only two days later, the rig sank which led to five million barrels of oil being spilt into the Gulf of Mexico over a three-month period. It is the worst spill in US history and one of the catalysts behind the climate change movement.  What have we learned from it?
The impact on the environment was obviously catastrophic. The infamous images of animals drowning in oil have cemented themselves in the public’s mind and the climate change movement is now stronger than ever. The spill spanned over a thousand miles of US coastline causing unimaginable damage to the ecosystem. Despite it being nearly a decade since the spill, the event is still topical in today’s conversation on the environment. It unquestionably changed the public’s attitudes towards fossil fuels, sparking an interest in government energy and environment policy, which is surely a positive given the terrible nature of the event. The media’s coverage brought the environmental issue to the front of the public’s mind.

In 2006, An Inconvenient Truth was released, and this was the initial catalyst to the climate change movement. However, it wasn’t until the spill of 2010 that the public truly committed to preserving the planet. Nation states are gradually committing to renewable energy and companies like Tesla have put clean energy into the mainstream. The direct impact of the spill was undoubtedly horrific but, there are reasons to be optimistic when looking to the future.

The main culprits behind the spill, BP, did not cover themselves in glory throughout the process and have since paid over $60 billion in penalties. BP’s CEO (at the time) was British businessman, Tony Hayward who regrettably became the “poster boy” of the entire incident. BP’s overall handling of the event was embarrassing and only added fuel to the public’s anger towards the company, Hayward’s insincere media appearances were even satirised in TV shows like South Park. Even with the relentless media onslaught and public hatred, the question whether justice was dealt remains debatable.

One of the main causes behind the spill was the use of inappropriate cement for the well. Both Halliburton and BP were aware of the flaws yet nothing was done to change or prevent its use, why? BP have not showed signs of committing to new energy sources nor were they encouraged to by the government or legal system; it became an issue of money. Financial penalties seemed to be the answer but given how affluent BP is, it is questionable whether the company had a period of self-reflection. BP were found guilty of “gross negligence” and putting profits ahead of safety; which has led to a crisis in trust between the public, MNCs and government.

It is important to not pin the tragedy on the drilling industry; it was the incompetence of certain individuals who were too stubborn to reform or change. In addition to this, the fact that the US government and/or coastguard had no contingency plan for an event like this shows that the blame cannot purely be sided with the multinational companies.

Overall, the Deepwater Horizon spill was an event that could have easily been prevented. The loss of life and damage to the environment is deeply regrettable but there are reasons to be optimistic about our future. Unfortunately, disasters must occur to learn from mistakes and Deepwater Horizon is no exception. As a result of the spill, new regulations have been put in place to prevent something like this from happening again plus companies are far more transparent making them more accountable. We are now taking the issue of climate change more seriously and protecting our environment is the start, recent protests in London show that the public wants change and it’s up to governments to make it happen. 

Kyle Scott Pirie

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