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A Year Since BP Disaster: How Much We’ve Learned, How Little We’ve Changed

 April 19, 2011

A Year Since BP Disaster: How Much We’ve Learned, How Little We’ve Changed

Statement of Tyson Slocum, Director, Public Citizen’s Energy Program

On Wednesday, 365 days will have passed since an explosion on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig 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.

And in the past year, it looks as though we have learned little.

We have learned that lax regulations led BP and its contractors to prioritize expediency and cost-cutting at the expense of worker safety and environmental protection. But we have yet to enact stronger safeguards.

We have 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. But we have yet to find another option.

We have seen what the oil has done to the Gulf community – to the beaches and marshes, to the wildlife, to the livelihoods of the residents. None has fully recovered since the oil washed over their lives.

And in the wake of this environmental catastrophe, Congress has failed to pass meaningful legislation that would hold the oil industry accountable, reform the regulatory process and protect both workers and the environment. This legislation has not even been reintroduced in the Senate.

Lawmakers have failed to enact a single recommendation from the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling. In the event of another oil disaster, taxpayers very well could be on the hook for cleanup costs because Congress has yet to change the law that caps oil companies’ liability at $75 million.

And although President Barack Obama dismantled the dysfunctional Minerals and Management Service and reshuffled the nation’s offshore drilling regulator, glaring problems remain. Deepwater permits are issued without certification that the oil companies can immediately contain a blowout in water a mile deep. 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.

We must ask: 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 flustered experts unable 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 any real resolutions and changes?

Congress must stop its kowtowing to Big Oil. Lawmakers should get rid of industry tax subsidies, pass tough legislation and reject campaign contributions from BP, Halliburton and Transocean.

We owe it to Gulf residents and the American people to remedy these problems before an even larger disaster trumps the BP spill.

We cannot wait for the next catastrophe to act.

Public Citizen is a national, nonprofit consumer advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C. For more information, please visit www.citizen.org.