Reminding us all how dangerous the dependence on fossil fuel can be, yesterday marked the one-year anniversary of the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico — the”greatest man-made disaster” since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center – which resulted in the loss of eleven men, crippled the livelihood of Gulf residents, and severely deteriorated the Gulf’s fragile ecosystem. A government-backed study found last month that the blowout preventer – a cutting device that shears and seals the pipe of a leaking well — failed on the Deepwater Horizon, resulting in the release of nearly five million barrels of oil into the Gulf. The detrimental effects of the BP disaster — such as its grave contribution to global warming — have prompted both retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, who oversaw the Obama administration’s response to the disaster, to warn that [t]here’s no such thing as risk-free drilling,” and Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) to question the safety of deepwater drilling in the Gulf. The month of April provides yet another grim warning of the perils of dirty energy: the one-year anniversary of the Massey coal mine disaster, which tragically claimed the lives of 29 miners. But just yesterday, on the BP disaster anniversary, Pennsylvania got a haunting reminder of the potential dangers of drilling for fossil fuels when a natural gas well blew, causing a major leak of fracking fluid — a mixture of sand, water, and undisclosed chemicals that pose significant threats to underground water supplies.
A YEAR AFTER THE SPILL: Breaking a one year moratorium on political donations, a campaign finance report filed with the Federal Election Commission on Tuesday details BP’s campaign contributions to climate zombies House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and the leader of the climate-deniers Fred Upton (R-MI) — among others. Noticeably, all but one of BP’s political contributions were for Republicans. After writing off the losses incurred from the tragedy they created, BP received nearly a $10 billion dollar credit on their 2010 federal tax return — compare that to the EPA’s annual budget of $10.5 billion in 2010. Moreover, the president of BP’s Alaska unit asked the state to lower its oil production taxes to boost investment in the Trans Alaska Pipeline System. Even worse, despite the country’s month-old civil war and confrontation with Western governments, BP is still planning to move forward with drilling in Libya. Kenneth Feinberg, administrator of BP’s $20 billion claims fund for victims of the spill, has faced sharp criticism for the slow pace of payments to Gulf residents, and has been found to be financially tied to BP, as documents show that BP pays Feinberg’s law firm $1.25 million a month for his services. Adding insult to injury, the Gulf coast ecosystem is still reeling from the disaster. The National Wildlife Federation reported this month that the BP disaster contaminated 3,000 miles of beach, wetlands, and that new “tar balls” are washing up on the shores every day. Sixty-five dead baby dolphins have been found in the Gulf region — five times higher than the average — and the National Audubon Society has warned that the spill continues to threaten many endangered migratory species< in the Gulf. As CAP warned last year, the impact of the spill on the health of Gulf region residents has also been quite noticeable. James Diaz, director of the environmental and occupational health sciences program at Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center in New Orleans, said that [w]e’re seeing patients who will come in and say my nose is bleeding all the time, my cough gets worse.” Diaz said that he knows “a lot about the acute health effects of the compounds in petroleum because it’s a major industry” in the Gulf region, and that he is “seeing a lot of” coughing, watery eyes, itchy eyes, nosebleeds, and sneezing — all symptoms of exposure to crude oil.
MINING BLACK DEATH: A federal probe concluded in March that a trapped piece of drill pipe stopped a key failsafe device from sealing off the blown oil well, which lead to a methane explosion on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig and its collapse into the Gulf of Mexico. With nearly a total of five million barrels of oil spilled into the Gulf, the BP disaster wreaked havoc on the environment, caused overall tourism and consumer spending to drop 40 percent, and is the world’s worst accidental offshore oil spill in history. The mining of coal has also brought devastation. A Mine Safety and Health Administration investigation found that the mixture of accumulated, highly explosive coal dust and methane gas set the stage for a blast of astonishing power in Massey’s Upper Big Branch coal mine in West Virginia, which caused the death of 29 coal workers The Massey coal mine accident is the worst mining disaster in the US in the last 4 decades. But the accident came as no surprise, as four of Massey’s coal mines in 2009 had injury rates more than double the national average, Massey’s Freedom Mine in Kentucky was shut down by federal regulators, and even the Upper Big Branch mine — the location of the disaster — had more closure orders than any other mine in the nation.
SAFETY SACRIFICED FOR ENERGY: Oil and coal workers continually risk their lives for our dependence on dirty energy. “Coal mining is a dangerous profession,” CAP’s Daniel J. Weiss and Valeri Vasquez write, and results in “[e]xplosions, fires, and collapsed mine shafts [that] have killed at least 3,827 miners since 1968 — not to mention thousands of others who have suffered from pulmonary diseases and other work-related injuries.” Oil workers are not exempt from the danger, as “[t]here have been 77 fatalities and 7,550 injuries at onshore and offshore oil production facilities since 1968,” write Weiss and Vaquez. Totaling at 7.5 million barrels of oil, spills related to these accidents have wreaked havoc, causing billions of dollars of environmental and economic damage. Following the BP disaster, 101 oil-spill-related bills were introduced by the 111th Congress, but to date, zero have been enacted. And instead of hitting the brakes after the disastrous spill, House Republicans have accelerated the oil drilling permitting process in Gulf. Citing the resoundingly disproven concept that additional offshore drilling will lower domestic gas prices, Rep. Doc Hastings (R-WA) has brought a bill to the House that ” would dramatically accelerate the permitting process in the Gulf of Mexico and require the Secretary of the Interior to open portions of the heretofore untouched outer continental shelf in the Atlantic, Arctic, and Pacific Oceans to more drilling,” writes CAP’s Michael Conathan. The top Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA), on the other hand, advocates that oil companies use their thousands of existing, undeveloped leases in the western Gulf of Mexico first or lose them. Markey has also called for an immediate inspection of whether blowout preventers — cutting devices that seal the pipe of a leaking well and failed during the BP spill — could ever be counted on. And two bills introduced in the House and Senate would establish ”legislation mandating 80 percent of BP’s Clean Water Act fines that will ultimately come due as a result of this spill—likely to total between $4.3 billion and $16.9 billion—be sent directly to the Gulf Coast to repair the damage done to both the environment and the economy,” writes Conathon. But West Virginia hasn’t fared any better, as the state has failed to pass any mine safety package after the Massey disaster. Finally, as Weiss and Vasquez point out, the US needs to make significant investments in “clean, noncombustible renewable energy sources” — such as solar panels and wind farms — citing that they “are much less susceptible to large, catastrophic disasters such as the Massey and BP Deepwater Horizon tragedies.”