Why the BP Disaster in the Gulf Could Happen Again Tomorrow

Our response to last year's disaster is the equivalent of rearranging chairs on the deck of the Titanic.

On Wednesday, 365 days will have passed since the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig killed 11 workers and triggered the worst environmental disaster our country has ever seen. For 87 of those days, we watched helplessly as the government, BP and countless contractors failed to stop the oil from gushing into the Gulf of Mexico.  

The most disheartening aspect of the whole thing? It could happen again tomorrow.  

Sure, President Barack Obama reshuffled the Department of Interior's offshore drilling regulators and issued a deepwater drilling moratorium while making small improvements to safety and environmental reviews in response to the disaster. But that's like rearranging the chairs on the deck of the Titanic.  


Multiple investigations concluded that lax regulations encouraged BP and its contractors to prioritize expediency and cost-cutting at the expense of worker safety and environmental protection. And recently, we learned that blowout preventers - the one piece of equipment that was supposed to be a fail-safe way to prevent an endless gusher - can fail if the force of oil is too strong.  

Congress still hasn't passed a package of basic drilling-related measures that would substantially improve worker and environmental safety. And the oil industry still hasn't come up with any fail-safe device that works well in deep water.  

What will it take?
If the 4 million barrels of oil pouring into the Gulf of Mexico didn't prompt them to act, would 10 million?  

If the 87 days of around-the-clock experts failing to plug the oil didn't trigger change, would 150 days?  

If 11 workers killed on the oil rig didn't spark them to enact reforms, would the deaths of a whole fleet of workers?  

Must we wait for "BP: The Sequel" to see real change?  

Taxpayers are still on the hook for cleanup costs if we have another huge spill because Congress hasn't changed the law that caps oil companies' liabilities at $75 million. That's appalling.  

Until regulators are given the authority and resources they need to ensure the safety of deepwater drilling and oil companies invest their record profits into technology that will truly stop an oil spill, it simply isn't prudent to move forward on deepwater drilling.  

America needs an energy policy that holds polluters accountable, provides working families with affordable energy, and protects our air and water resources. Deepwater oil drilling fails these tests. We can either continue to appease dirty energy companies or we can invest in rooftop solar, energy efficiency, mass transit and the electrification of the transportation sector to ensure a safer, cleaner and more affordable energy future.  


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Tyson Slocum is Public Citizen's energy program director. Public Citizen led efforts to boycott BP, organized BP protests on the Hill and at BP's D.C. headquarters, criticized Obama's structuring of the BP escrow fund, pushed to give the oil spill commission subpoena power and relentlessly pushed for Congress to pass legislation based off the commission's recommendations, among other initiatives.