Five years ago today a un-controlled gas “kick” blew apart a sub-standard well installation that began what is to this point the largest single fossil fuel disaster in human history (if you exclude the 2005 US Energy Policy Act). From the very outset BP began spinning the tale to mitigate public alarm – vastly underestimating the volume of the plume at (originally) 1000 barrels/day, then 5000. (The final estimate was closer to 60,000 barrels a day.)
Shortly after the blowout I found myself at an Offshore Technologies Conference – the premier exhibition of the very technologies that made the Macondo blowout possible. The ongoing disaster hung a pall over the conference. Nobody was really saying anything about it. Conference participants were sort-of looking at the toes their shoes as one might after finding out that the wild-child behavior of their kid brother finally resulted in something serious happening. Something really serious…
While much of the ongoing public conversation orbited around the oil damage to wildlife and the incentives behind the experimental use of the dispersant Corexit, seeing all of the response and clean-up vessels thundering away in the water I could not help but wonder what this all sounded like underwater. Of course in the scale of the disaster, noise pollution was just a curiosity on my part.
BP continues to put a smiley-face on the impacts. Knowing that an environmental mess of this size can never really be made right again; the best mitigation for them is to assure the public that “all is fine now – we learned so much, nothing like this will ever happen again…” Of course this is all in keeping with BP’s corporate responsibility to share-holders. Unfortunately the tenor of this discussion is polluting the current regulatory conversations about hydrocarbon leases in the Atlantic and the Arctic. “We learned so much from Macondo, nothing like this will ever happen again…”
Unfortunately the facts do not stand up to the claims. The phrase “lipstick on a pig” comes to mind. An animated map of the 10,000 + Gulf oil spills since the Macondo Blowout from our colleagues at SkyTruth really says it all. Offshore oil is a messy business. And while we will continue to sound the alarm about noise impacts of deepwater fossil fuel, the stark fact of uncontrolled pollutants – including noise, is all part of the process.