Oil spillage refers to the release of hydrocarbon petroleum liquid in the environment. This is mainly a result of human activities. It is one of the greatest forms and causes of pollution. It involves crude oil spillage from tankers, platforms, wells, and drilling rigs. Spillage could also be from petroleum products that are already refined, leakages from large ships, and waste oils directed to the waters. It should be noted that oil that seeps in its natural form can enter the marine and cause pollution to the marine environment. Most of the human-oriented spillages originate from activities that are undertaken on the land. Oil spillage is very dangerous because it takes a lot of time to clean it up which could range from months to years depending on the source of the spill. As a result of the difficulties involved in controlling an already occurring oil spillage as well as the environmental damage it causes, oil spillage should be prevented at all costs (Burger, p. 56).
The BP Oil Spill Disaster in the Gulf
One of the greatest environmental disasters that have ever hit the United States of America is the oil spillage in the Gulf region which originated from the British Petroleum Company. According to the reports that were given, the spillage occurred a month after another spillage which was caused by an explosion of a ship carrying coal near Australia. This particular spillage at the Gulf of Mexico occurred as a result of an explosion of an oil rig from BP Company. It is an explosion that took place at around 11 pm on Tuesday, the 20th of April 2010. It was estimated to have caused the deaths of approximately 200 people. The particular rig was said to be drilling at the time of the explosion. However, it was never on production at that particular time of the day. The deepwater horizon exposition of the oil rig caused a lot of oil spillage to the environment. The oil was in its crude form and it has caused a lot of environmental threats. In addition, many people who depend on the water from the wetland especially for their livelihood were seriously affected. Apart from the environmental pollution that has severely threatened the ecosystem around the gulf, there has also been a significant loss of revenue by the industries whose employees were affected. This has made the oil spill a national disaster for the North American continent.
Was the BP Oil Spill Disaster in the Gulf Avoidable?
Due to the known adverse effects of the oil spillage on the ecosystem and human beings, several measures must be put in place to prevent a similar spillage from occurring. Nevertheless, it should be noted that oil transportation cannot be done away with. This is because apart from being a very important commodity in the lives of human beings, oil is also an income-generating commodity for the countries that are involved in its production. This, therefore, has called for the need to implement effective measures to avoid future oil spillage. Following several comments and questions that have been put forth by so many people including scholars and policymakers who are following up on the event, one cannot help but ask whether the disaster was avoidable. This is a misery that only serious research can solve.
One of the interviewees interviewed by Waichman claimed that “the disaster is in violation of several environmental acts, including the Clean Water Act and the Oil Pollution Act and is among the worst offshore drilling disasters in recent U.S. history, and could be the deadliest” (1). This statement shows that the disaster could have been avoided if the company had fully complied with the environmental laws laid down by the country. It means that several measures were not implemented or taken into consideration by the company. It should be noted that any law that has been passed concerning a certain issue is based on very intense research to ensure it is applicable. Laws are also tested to ensure that all ways in which such laws are likely to be violated are identified. This means that oil spillage in the ocean in whatever means can be avoided and so the BP Company had a way in which they could have avoided it.
According to the news broadcast on the website by Waichman, it was stated that “the deepwater horizon oil rig that exploded last week was not outfitted with a safety device that might have prevented the massive oil spill now nearing the U.S. Gulf Coast known as an acoustic switch, a last-resort protection against underwater spills” (1). This statement is very important in showing the world that the disaster was preventable. This is because if the device spoken about was fitted on the rig, then it means that the disaster would not have occurred that day. It is a gesture that shows that such a big and advanced nation is lacking such an important device or that the company responsible was ignorant about implementing the protective device. Most importantly, the fact that the regulation on having such a safety device is not included anywhere in the laws is despicable. This shows a lack of responsibility on the part of the relevant organizations and agencies.
On the Waichman web page, it was stated that “speculation is that the explosion was the result of a blowout. Such an event occurs when a combination of well control systems – primarily drilling mud hydrostatics and blow-out preventers (BOPs) – fail” (1). This statement means that if the explosion was caused by a blow out then it is likely that the problem would have been detected during the servicing of the equipment before operation. This consequently implies that probably much attention was not paid to the equipment during the servicing process hence the failure of the systems. Another explanation could be that the device was not serviced for quite a long period and thus if such measures were taken, then the inevitable explosion would have been detected before it ever occurred.
Some of the preventive measures of oil spillage that have been in implementation at the Gulf are only meant to take care of the health and life of the people rather than to avoid spillage. A very good example is the training of the inspectors on seafood sensory. This is very important in that it helps the regulators and the inspectors to sense any seafood that has been tainted in the Gulf region. This is to ensure that the products that are reaching the customers are safe for consumption. Such a measure is only to ensure that the spillage does not hurt the health of the people rather than the spillage occurrence. In addition, the preventive measures do not cater to the ecosystem that includes marine life. The oil spillage at the Gulf of Mexico could therefore have been prevented if the same significance was attached to its prevention rather than its consequence. For instance, sea vessels carrying oil are supposed to have a double hulling to reduce any possible risk of spilling the oil product on transit.
Rogoff (6) states that:
“The disaster, however, poses a much deeper challenge to how modern societies deal with regulating complex technologies. The accelerating speed of innovation seems to be outstripping government regulators’ capacity to deal with risks, much less anticipate them. It is a huge embarrassment for US President Barrack Obama that he proposed – admittedly under pressure from the Republican opposition – to expand offshore oil drilling greatly just before the BP catastrophe struck.”
According to the above statement, there were other cases of oil spillage in the Gulf region before the recent one occurred. This means that the region is prone to oil spillage cases. With that in mind, the government of the United States should have taken a keener interest in putting into place some mechanisms to prevent such an occurrence. However, it could be that the government was occupied in trying to come up with some strategies of counteracting the effects of the economic crisis in the country hence could not pay much attention to the issue of disaster management. There was a need to research what takes place in the ocean to be able to come up with ways of dealing with any future oil disaster in the region. Before the government considered expanding the oil drilling at the sea, it should have properly researched the issues of any disasters that could have taken place. Although an environmental impact assessment was done before the project was launched, the credibility of the research findings remains questionable.
Rogoff also stated that “financial crises are almost comforting by comparison. Speculative bubbles and banking crises have been a regular feature of the economic landscape for centuries. Awful as they are, societies survive them,” (12). According to this statement, the financial crisis that hit the U.S. should not be used as an excuse to escape the responsibility of what happened and cover up its failure. The fact that the government and BP took a risky and adventurous step to increase the oil drilling activities from the sea means that they should also have thought of the detrimental consequences which might have come up in the event of an explosion. By doing that, the oil spillage would have been prevented.
According to the article written by Rogoff, it is stated that “the advanced countries, which can best afford to restrain long-term growth, must lead by example. The balance of technology, complexity, and regulation is without doubt one of the greatest challenges that the world must face in the twenty-first century,” (p. 14). This statement is true in that the United States, being one of the most developed countries in the world, should be in a position to financially invest in disaster prevention mechanisms because it is economically stable to do so. By this, it means that there should have been better disaster mechanisms put in place to prevent the occurrence of oil spillage in the Gulf region. Technology advancement in the current industrial revolution era should consecutively be introduced together with a disaster prevention mechanism (Walker, p. 180).
Murphy argues that “the only even vaguely anti-US takeaway from his comment is that we, as a people, remain willfully ignorant to all these problems as long as we get out consumer fix” (p. 12). This statement means that the issue of economic gains earned from the oil drilling activities was more important than even the danger the activity was causing to the life of the people and the environment. In any case, according to the environmental laws, before the establishment of any project in the environment a very intensive and detailed environmental impact assessment must be carried out. This means that the findings or the process of the impact assessment was doubtful in the first place and hence the environmental disaster that occurred later on.
As it was stated by Graham “fossil fuels and the industry behind them, while certainly being responsible for advancing our civilization, have now become more of a liability than benefit” (p. 10). It is possible that the process of putting in place preventive measures at the oil drilling site was very expensive and so, as a way of avoiding such expenses, no good measures were implemented by the government. Instead, cheaper preventive systems could have been installed at the site to minimize costs and reap higher benefits. Graham also claims that “the rig was drilling, but not in production. It was under contract with BP. As of now, the cause of the blast is unknown. The priority is of course to make sure everybody is safe. Once that is done, the investigation will begin,” (p. 10). This means that since the cause was unknown it is impossible to tell whether the explosion was avoidable. This calls for in-depth research to be undertaken so that the real cause of the explosion can be determined. By doing this, it would be easy to know what preventive measures would have been put in place to avoid the explosion.
Graham (12) also stated that:
“Sensitive ecosystems at risk include the Delta National Wildlife Refuge and parts of eastern Louisiana. According to a statement from BP, more than 1,000 people are taking part in the oil spill response. However, it could be two weeks or more before the spill is contained. For now, the well is leaking as much as 42,000 gallons of oil every day”.
The above statement gives insight into the extent of the damage caused by the explosion. This shows that the rig and the systems at the oil drilling site were undergoing damages over the years which could have been rectified through regular maintenance by the BP Company. If such measures had been taken, the explosion and oil spill would have been prevented.
A lot has been written about the issue of oil spillage in the Gulf of Mexico. Most of the people feel that the government would have done something to avoid the disaster from happening. This calls for more research to find out what should have been done to prevent the occurrence of the spillage. The research would also help prevent similar occurrences from taking place in the future. Nevertheless, the Gulf oil disaster serves as an example to other oil-producing countries to implement preventive measures to avoid similar occurrences. In conclusion, the facts presented show that the Gulf oil spillage was indeed avoidable.