A Study in Oil
New Hyde Park, New York
2017, High School, Prose
In 2010, Jonathan Ragas, a fisherman at Port Sulphur, Louisiana, had his income destroyed by the corporations claiming to protect him.
Ragas, a long-time resident of the small town bordering the Gulf of Mexico, spends his days on a boat, searching for crabs and accumulating money to recompense for the 300 crab traps he lost during Hurricane Katrina. But after the Deepwater Horizonexplosion that resulted in the leaking of thousands of gallons of oil into the Gulf, Ragas predicts an even bleaker future for himself. “There’s always something that happens here, but this slick is going to destroy the rest of our livelihoods. Katrina put me $10,000 behind on my child support payments. This time, they’re going to lock me up” (Leonard).
The Deepwater Horizon rig was something akin to a superstar in the oil world around the time it blew up on April 20, 2010. Noted as the driller of the deepest well ever created when it was constructed, the rig was positioned in the BP-run Tiber oilfield, about 75 miles off the coast of New Orleans. However, during the days leading up to the explosions, many blatant actions disregarding general safety in favor of economic advantage made the fearsome deep-water drilling mechanism a ticking time bomb. At the beginning of this gargantuan project, the U. S. Department of the Interior, in its Minerals Management Service (MMS), released a statement that assured citizens that BP and similar companies possessed sufficient equipment to manage any oil spills in the event of one. Such a claim was truly preposterous, as no such oil spill had ever occurred in deep water; a noted figure in the oil industry stated, “The industry has not developed an oil spill plan for the low-probability, high-consequence event when everything fails” (Hoffman).
In addition, the federal government was lenient towards oil because it accounted for the US’s second-most profitable source of money, right after taxes. To them, oil was a resource to be exploited, a method to increase wealth, power, and influence. The disadvantages and risks of deep water mining were discarded, merely cited as an “unlikely” occurrence. Essentially, the safety of American oil workers and marine ecosystems were marginalized in favor of monetary gain (Hoffman).
While such an atrocious act came out of the MMS, they were not the only ones who contributed to the tragedy that happened in the Gulf of Mexico. BP, the company that was in charge of Deepwater Horizon and took most of the blame for the incident, had a history of oil spills and ignoring safety violations. In 2006, for example, they were responsible for one of the most destructive oil spills in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, by “ignoring signs of pipeline corrosion, cutting costs despite record profits, and harassing workers who raised concerns” (Davidson). Later, in 2008, BP was accountable in an explosion in the Caspian Sea near Azerbaijan due to similar malpractice. Yet perhaps the most infuriating aspect of these preventable catastrophes was that BP was merely required to pay $20 million and stay on probation for three years by a federal judge. This slap on the wrist had basically no effect on the organization, as they are the tenth richest company in the world today (Davidson) (Webb).
With all this history of neglect and carelessness, it sadly remains no surprise the Deepwater Horizon tragedy ended as it did. At approximately 9:45 P.M. on April 20, 2010, methane pockets that were incorrectly stifled due to poor drilling methods built up enough pressure to shoot a geyser upward into the base, eventually taking the rig down in a heart-stopping explosion of water, gas, and mud. Eleven people perished that night, and 4.9 million barrels of oil were sent tumbling into the Gulf of Mexico (“Deepwater”).
The Deepwater Horizon oil spill wreaked havoc on the marine ecosystems surrounding the rig. Pelicans, the state bird of Louisiana, were found covered in thick, unforgiving slime, struggling to fly with the heavy oil weighing down on their delicate wings. Chirping dolphins, the epitome of happiness in the dreary Gulf of Mexico, dropped dead at an unprecedented rate. The beautiful, serene mangrove islands that dot the coastline, the epitome of lush survival against all odds, were reduced to ugly roots, jutting up from the murky, oil-laden water. The Gulf ecosystem, in all its glory, became a swampland of desolation and toxicity (“Deepwater”) (Elliott).
And BP walked away with a $30.7 billion bill.
In any other circumstance, such reparations would be tremendous, and more than make up for the trauma the organization inflicted on the marine world. However, BP actually managed to squirm their way out of an initial $56 billion tab by writing off part of their $32 billion cleanup endeavor and deducting most of their $20 billion settlement with the government (Wood).
So who is to blame for this calamity? Is it the MMS for enabling all this in the first place? Or is it BP, a corporation that heartlessly and recklessly takes from the environment without giving anything but death and destruction back? The true answer: neither.
Although it may be a sad reality to hear, human beings in power are easily corrupted. That’s why society implemented a system of courts and judges, a system that’s sole role is to carry out punishments and rewards in accordance to what is accepted as basic human values. This system has failed to keep the world safe by allowing BP to continue its malpractice.
Some individuals would call this notion ridiculous and overly idealistic. They would argue that courts simply don’t have the authority to take on a multinational mammoth of a company, or the time and energy to dedicate to such “unreasonable” matters. But is that really true? Are judges and lawyers not supposed to protect the rights of the countless animals that rely on the Gulf of Mexico for sustenance or a habitat? Are they not supposed to protect the humans that fish the Gulf for a livelihood? Or, if they don’t, who is left to protect the rest of the world from such heartbreaks?
The fight for stricter regulations and more stable marine ecosystems has already begun. In the weeks following the Deepwater Horizon accident, the US Department of the Interior disbanded the MMS and replaced it with a much more reliable Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM). President Obama signed an Executive Order that called for a national committee to be formed in order to investigate the BP matter. There even was a law implemented that prevented any employee with conflicts of interest from working at the BOEM (“Regulatory”).
However, there still remains a lot of work to be done. BP should have never been able to implement their rig in the first place, as they had already been liable in two similar instances. A law that prevents any company with far too many safety violations from continuing practices that risk the stability of ecosystems and the lives of people should be passed, or at least be brought to the attention of men and women who are in positions of power.
Of course, one individual who keeps writing comments to BOEM will never get anything done. So it lies on the vast majority of the American people to help take a stand against large corporations damaging marine ecosystems through months of poor decisions and a repeated lack of diligence.
In order to send the BOEM a comment asking them to consider a law change, go to www.regulations.gov and type “BOEM” into the search bar. Many topics of discussion will appear on the screen, so it is very important to choose the topic to comment under that is most relevant to the post to be made. After entering the topic’s page, look to the right side of the page for the “comments” button. Follow the displayed directions from there.
Yes, this process may seem long and pointless to many individuals. The cold hard fact is that a lot of people simply don’t have the time or the passion to do such a trivial thing, as even if they complete the procedure, there is no guarantee that it will make a difference. That’s not the truth, though. Of all the BOEM-related topics that came up on the website, none had more than three comments on it. Basically, no more than three people put in the time and effort to fight off the effect of oil on marine ecosystems in perhaps the easiest way available to them.
This overall lack of motion must change if the United States of America is to become the “shining city upon a hill” it needs to be. Citizens must rise up to the occasion and challenge authorities to fight for American ideals and American safety. Patriots must take to the comments sections of many government websites and make their concerns about vanishing marine stability and disastrous – yet preventable – oil spills heard. For, if they do not, the world’s oceans will transform into inhabitable swamps of oil, helpless creatures, and lost dreams.
Davidson, Paul. “Congressmen Slam BP Executives at Alaskan Oil Leak Hearing.” USA Today, 7 Sept. 2006, usatoday30.usatoday.com/money/industries/energy/2006-09-07-bp-hearing_x.htm. Accessed 18 June 2017.
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Elliott, Debbie. 5 Years after BP Oil Spill, Effects Linger and Recovery Is Slow. 20 Apr. 2015. National Public Radio, 20 Apr. 2015. NPR, www.npr.org/2015/04/20/400374744/5-years-after-bp-oil-spill-effects-linger-and-recovery-is-slow. Accessed 18 June 2017. Lecture. Transcript.
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Leonard, Tom. “Louisiana Oil Slick: Gulf Coast Residents Fear Damage Worse than Katrina.” The Telegraph. The Telegraph, www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/northamerica/usa/7660183/Louisiana-oil-slick-Gulf-coast-residents-fear-damage-worse-than Katrina.html. Accessed 17 June 2017.
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Wankhede, Anish. “Fighting Oil Spill on Ship.” Marine Insight, 5 June 2017, www.marineinsight.com/guidelines/fighting-oil-spill-on-ship/. Accessed 17 June 2017.
Webb, Tim. “WikiLeaks Cables: BP Suffered Blowout on Azerbaijan Gas Platform.” The Guardian, 15 Dec. 2010. The Guardian, www.theguardian.com/world/2010/dec/15/wikileaks-bp-azerbaijan-gulf-spill. Accessed 18 June 2017.
Wood, Robert W. “In BP’s Final $20 Billion Gulf Settlement, U.S. Taxpayers Subsidize $15.3 Billion.” Forbes, 6 Apr. 2016. Forbes, www.forbes.com/sites/robertwood/2016/04/06/in-bps-final-20-billion-gulf-settlement-u-s-taxpayers-subsidize-15-3 billion/#6849345d36b2. Accessed 18 June 2017.