Lessons for NC coast to learn as Gulf communities still suffer five years later

Environment North Carolina Research and Policy Center

Raleigh, NC – Gulf communities and wildlife are still reeling from the effects of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, according to “Deepwater Horizon: An Ongoing Environmental Disaster,” a factsheet released by the Environment North Carolina Research & Policy Center. Today marks the five-year anniversary of the disaster, when a British Petroleum oil rig exploded and spilled more than 200 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. The leak continued for 87 days, when emergency workers were finally able to cap the well.

The anniversary of the spill comes as the Obama Administration considers opening up the entire North Carolina coast to oil and gas exploration.

“Our precious coast and wildlife must be protected from the kinds of environmental and economic tragedies the BP blowout brought to the Gulf of Mexico,” said Dave Rogers, director of Environment North Carolina. “That’s why we’re calling on the Obama administration to protect the North Carolina coast from this dangerous drilling.”

The BP Deepwater Horizon blowout on April 20, 2010 killed eleven and injured dozens more. As detailed in a new Environment North Carolina Research & Policy Center fact sheet, for three months following the explosion, millions of gallons of crude oil and thousands of tons of methane spewed from the sea floor.

Today the devastation is far from over. Tar mats, one as large as a quarter-acre and weighing 40,000 pounds, have been discovered on the coast of Mississippi and Louisiana in the last two years. Gulf communities and coastal economies are still suffering, with oyster harvests in 2014 still amongst the lowest on record.

Adding insult to injury, BP, which was found “grossly negligent” for its role in the disaster, has already reaped at least $10 billion in tax windfalls related to the disaster. A forthcoming decision from the Justice Department to address BP’s liability could earn the company an additional $4.9 billion tax windfall.

Last week a Gov. Pat McCrory testified at a House oversight hearing in the House Natural Resources Energy subcommittee. His testimony echoed an earlier letter to BOEM asking them to not only approve drilling off the North Carolina coast, but to move it closer to shore than the current plan allows. The current plan calls for a 50-mile buffer, while Governor McCrory wants to allow drilling as close as 30 miles off the coast.

Emilie Swearingen, a town commissioner from Kure Beach, testified as well. She expressed strong opposition to drilling and noted that the industrialization of the coast could destroy the tourism and coastal fishing economy that coastal communities rely on.

 “While the Obama Administration has proposed adjusting safety standards for drill rigs, the devastation of oil soaked birds, dead whales, and lasting damage to our communities won’t be solved by a mere tinkering. The unfortunate fact is that when you drill, you spill. Our coasts are too precious to risk to another BP disaster. The Administration needs to pull back this misguided and dangerous plan,” concluded Rogers.