Oil has hit shore in Louisiana, and despite BP’s best efforts to keep the media away, reporters can now touch the greasy stuff with their hands and feet. The onrush of oil into the Gulf has continued for over a month now, and while BP is still trying to staunch both the spill and media spin, the company is losing control over the information that’s reaching the public.
The Environmental Protection Agency demanded this week that the company use a less toxic dispersant to clean up the spill, and independent scientists are releasing estimates of the spills volume that dwarf BP’s numbers in terms of magnitude.
Right now, a catastrophe of this scope seems like an unprecedented, one-off event. But across the energy industry, at other drilling sites, in other industries, companies are taking risks and courting environmental disasters on the same scale.
BP, which was operating the rig before the spill, has other sins on its head. In Louisiana, “fishermen say BP spills oil every year and they point out marshes still dead from dispersants that were sprayed there,” marine biologist Riki Ott writes for Yes! Magazine.
The latest disaster could cause more exponentially more damage, but it is far from unique. On Democracy Now!, former EPA investigator Scott West, describes a case in which one of the company’s Alaska pipelines burst, spilling oil out onto the frozen tundra. BP had ignored workers’ concerns about the integrity of the pipeline, West says, and during warmer months, the resulting spill could have reached the Bering Sea and created a much bigger mess.
“Now we’re seeing the same sort of thing in the Gulf, in this catastrophe,” West said. “And information is coming to light that corners were cut and that employees’ concerns were being ignored. It’s the exact same pattern that we saw with BP in Alaska.”
But a new report, which combs over the oil industry as a whole, shows that “BP can’t be singled out,” writes Public News Service. The report “found that operating errors and incidents around the globe are more common than the public likely realizes because most events don’t make the news.”
As countries like the United States become more desperate for fuel, accidents like the spill in the Gulf Coast become more likely. Extracting oil from tar sands, hydrofracking, deep-sea oil drilling: these are tricky techniques for extracting fossil fuel that are becoming popular only because the world’s store of easily accessible energy is almost gone. In The Nation, Michael Klare writes about the new quest for “extreme energy options” and the contingent risks.
“By their very nature, such efforts involve an ever increasing risk of human and environmental catastrophe—something that has been far too little acknowledged," Klare writes. "As energy companies encounter fresh and unexpected hazards, their existing technologies…often prove incapable of responding adequately to the new challenges. And when disasters occur, as is increasingly likely, the resulting environmental damage is sure to prove exponentially more devastating than anything experienced in the industrial annals of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.”