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10 Years After BP Oil Spill Environmentalists Wonder Whether Lessons Learned Have Stuck

Vessels operate in the area of the Deepwater Horizon disaster on the Gulf of Mexico, Tuesday, July 13, 2010. BP officials have placed a containment cap over the leak in hopes that the flow of oil will be diminished.
Dave Martin
Associated Press (AP)

Environmentalists say the federal government is going backward when it comes to oil and gas drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. They question whether any of the lessons learned from the 2010 BP Oil Spill have stuck as the 10th anniversary of the spill approaches.

The federal government is making more parts of the Gulf available to oil and gas companies. It took 87 days for the Deepwater Horizon oil well to be capped. Today’s rigs are drilling further out in the gulf and deeper. Healthy Gulf spokesman Christian Wagley says that makes the wells harder to access if something goes wrong.

“Ten years after BP, the drilling operations are deeper and riskier, and there’s less federal oversight to keep them safe,” said Wagley, who is based in Pensacola. “That’s a combination that puts Florida’s beaches at risk for another BP-type disaster.”

The Florida Petroleum Institute says offshore oil drilling is safer now than it’s ever been.

“Technology is far better than it’s ever been before. We deeply believe that we can do this in a balanced, responsible way to protect the environment of Florida,” Explore Offshore Co-Chair and former Lieutenant Governor Jeff Kottcamp told WFSU in 2018. He called the changes of another Deepwater Horizon-type spill “vanishingly small.”

It’s a chance environmental advocates aren’t willing to take. Effects of the spill, both environmental and economic, are still being felt among the 1,300 miles of affected coastline from Texas to Florida, according to a report from the group, Oceana.

A Congressional moratorium on oil drilling in the Eastern Gulf expires in 2022. Florida’s delegation wants it extended another 10 years after that. While the House has approved the moratorium extension it’s hit a roadblock in the Senate. Democratic Congresswoman Kathy Castor of Tampa accuses President Donald Trump’s administration of aligning itself with the oil and gas industry.

“The Department of Defense [DOD] has also said they don’t want the rigs off Florida beaches that’s one of their premiere test grounds. That just goes to show how powerful oil and gas and their allies in Congress are. Usually if DOD takes a certain position you can build broad bipartisan support and get certain things done,” she said during a Friday press conference hosted by several conservation groups.

Monday marks the 10th anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill—the worst in U.S. History. BP paid a record $20 billion to settle with the federal government. Florida, Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas each received $1.86 billion as part of the agreement. The money is being used for economic development and environmental restoration.

In Florida, the organization Triumph Gulf Coast, created by the legislature, oversees the distribution of funding. Organizations must apply for the grants.

“My experience in the Panhandle is that it’s [the money] been used for mostly good things. I haven’t seen abuses of it, and kudos to congress for getting that in place…it’s definitely had some real positive impacts here,” said Wagley.

In Florida, public opinion has fallen solidly against offshore oil drilling. In 2018, Floridians approved a state constitutional amendment that bans oil and gas exploration off the state’s coast. The amendment prohibits oil and gas exploration activities three miles into the Atlantic Ocean and nine miles into the Gulf of Mexico.