Just what the Gulf didn’t need: A new oil spill


If there’s anything that the Gulf of Mexico doesn’t need, it’s one more drop of crude oil pollution. Even though we just marked the grim 6th anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the region is still feeling the impacts: Diminished wetlands with marshes still contaminated by crude oil, vital sea species — including a lot of the seafood that you might normally consume from the Gulf — that have never really bounced back from their exposure to the more than 4 million barrels of crude oil that spewed from the damaged rig over several months.

Of course, the vast spill — the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history, by a number of measures — had little long-term impact on our policies toward drilling in the Gulf. Even some of the most obvious safety measures for offshore drilling took years to implement, and others are still in limbo. After a very short break, the federal government returned to the business of leasing offshore drilling sites, and the Big Oil icons — even BP, which operated the Deepwater Horizon rig — returned with gusto. But the more oil extraction that takes place, the more chances for oil to again pollute the Gulf.

The week, the waters just off Louisiana received another reminder of the risks of producing so much of our crude oil from the Gulf:

A leak from an undersea pipeline network in the Gulf of Mexico released nearly 90,000 gallons of crude oil before being discovered and shut down, federal regulators said.

Royal Dutch Shell said it shut down that network after the leak was discovered and identified the source of the leak early Friday. The Coast Guard says the spill released 88,200 gallons of oil before being plugged.

That’s a small fraction of what spewed into the Gulf each day during the three-month Deepwater Horizon disaster in 2010, but it has given new fuel to campaigners who want to close off the Gulf to new wells. “We’re calling for no new drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, and this is exactly why,” said Anne Rolfes, founder of the environmental group Louisiana Bucket Brigade.

Thursday’s leak spill left a sheen of oil across roughly 26 square miles of the Gulf, according to the federal Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, which oversees offshore drilling. A Shell helicopter crew spotted the leak and called it in, the company said in a written statement.

Once discovered, Shell said it cut off the flow of oil from the four wells that feed into its Brutus production platform, located about 165 miles south of New Orleans. A robot submarine identified the leaking line early Friday, and was looking for any additional releases.

This would be bad enough if it were the only oil leak in the Gulf right now. But — as I’ve covered here extensively on this blog — the waters off Louisiana are also home to the Taylor Energy spill site, a leak that dates back to the destruction of an oil platform during Hurricane Ivan in 2004 and which officials have been unable to stop over the 12 years since. Just last week, my friend and colleague in the Louisiana environmental movement, Bonny Schumaker from the Wings of Care organization, flew over the Taylor spill site and witnessed a large, oily sheen, covering miles of surface — very similar, in fact, to this week’s Shell accident.

The Gulf of Mexico is a very resilient ecosystem, but there is only so much abuse that it can take. With energy prices low, crude oil supplies at high levels, and remarkable advances in alternative forms of power, there is no need for this high level of offshore drilling activity in the Gulf, nor the environmental damage that it causes. It’s past time to put a halt on any new drilling.

For more on this week’s Gulf oil spill, please read: https://news.vice.com/article/shell-oil-spill-prompts-renewed-calls-for-a-moratorium-on-oil-and-gas-development-in-the-gulf-of-mexico?utm-source=vicenewstwitter

Learn more about the long battle for environmental justice in Louisiana and the Deep South in my new book, Crude Justice: How I Fought Big Oil and Won, and What You Should Know About the New Environmental Attack on Americahttp://shop.benbellabooks.com/crude-justice

© Stuart H. Smith, LLC 2015 – All Rights Reserved

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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