Let's Celebrate and Mourn Plugging of BP's Gulf Oil Spill

Consequences and lots of hidden oil still remain

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Today, even as President Obama declared the BP oil spill all but over (thank God he didn’t declare "mission accomplished"), a Senate subcommittee hearing on dispersants opened. Almost immediately, Sen. Frank Lautenberg gave a dire warning:

Relief workers and wildlife in the gulf have become unwitting participants in a dangerous science experiment…There are enough warning signs about the risks of the dispersants to know that we need more federal testing.>

And so….more than three months after it started…BP’s exploded oil well….is plugged. The biggest unintentional oil spill in history has been staunched.

This news comes as White House energy advisor Carole Browner assures us that 3/4’s of the spilled oil has been disappeared through the processes of evaporation, skimming, burning, microbe-eating and dispersal. "The vast majority of the oil has now been contained, it’s been skimmed, Mother Nature has done its part, it’s evaporated…So I think we’re turning a corner here."

Time to start celebrating?

Sure, let’s throw a party for all those hard-working people in the Gulf whose livelihoods and lifestyles have been disrupted and even destroyed by this disaster. And while we are at it, let’s have a memorial for the uncountable numbers of birds, turtles, mammals, fish and microscopic life forms slaughtered by the spill’s toxic, suffocating impacts.

But, let’s not spend too much time tooting the vuvuzelas.

And let’s especially not believe that the end of the disaster is in sight. There’s just too much oil out there that’s out of sight — dispersed through miles of water columns, huddling on the bottom, still coming ashore.

If Browner’s estimate is right, that means something like 500,000 gallons of crude is yet to be dealt with — not to mention those many milllions of gallons dispersed in what may be one of the world’s greatest chemistry experiments. The New York Times spotlights the issue with these chilling words:

That dispersed oil now hovers, diluted in the water column, posing a challenge for scientists to track and measure the subsea plumes. Mapping the long-term effects of the nearly 2 million gallons of dispersant used by BP PLC may well be equally difficult, given the array of unanswered questions that surround the products’ rapid breakdown of oil droplets and their chronic toxicity.

In other words, while dispersants may have helped spare the Gulf’s birds, the chemicals are likely shifting dangers to other species lower in the food chain.

Earthjustice, which helped force EPA to reveal what makes up the dispersant chemical mix, will continue pushing to get to the bottom of this issue, and of course is continuing a variety of litigation efforts aimed at preventing another BP disaster.




From 2006–2014, Terry was managing editor for Earthjustice's blog, online monthly newsletter and print Earthjustice Quarterly Magazine.