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Thursday, April 18, 2019

New report highlights 'dirty and dangerous risks' of offshore drilling in Florida

Posted By on Thu, Apr 18, 2019 at 1:49 PM

click to enlarge Oil-soaked sargassum in the Gulf in summer of 2010 - PHOTO COURTESY OF THE NATIONAL OCEANIC AND ATMOSPHERIC ADMINISTRATION
  • Photo courtesy of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
  • Oil-soaked sargassum in the Gulf in summer of 2010
A report released this morning by the nonprofit ocean conservation group Oceana highlights the "dirty and dangerous" risks of the Trump administration's plans to move forward with offshore drilling.

Late last year, the nonpartisan group and a number of eastern coastal states sued the Trump administration to stop airgun blasting in the Atlantic Ocean after five companies were issued incidental harassment authorizations, or IHAs, from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Though the authorizations ban testing in waters up to 56 miles offshore between November and April during calving season for some whale species, such as the North American right whale, the one-year permits allow for the companies to use high-powered air guns to search the sea floor for oil in federal waters along the U.S. eastern coast – a necessity for offshore drilling companies to use in order to locate oil and gas deep under the ocean.

The report ties itself to the ninth anniversary of the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill that killed 11 people and dumped more than 210 million gallons of oil into the ocean. The disaster was enough to pollute as much as 1,300 miles of shoreline, harming wildlife and human health in the process.

A federal judge deemed the lead up to the incident "grossly negligent."

Among the report's findings, it notes how the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, or BSEE, reported at least 6,500 oil spills having occurred in U.S. waters between 2007 and 2017, though the study's researchers also point to how this is most likely still an undercount.

Today, although the fatalities in the industry have declined in recent years, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the fatality rate among the industry's workers, whether on- or offshore, is an average seven times more than other industries between 2003 and 2013.

The researchers cite how BSEE is understaffed to carry out inspections. Last year, 120 inspectors were expected to conduct roughly 20,000 inspections.

According to a study in the journal Nature, fines are based on oil spill amounts that are generally estimated by the company, with the amount of spillage involved in the incident often going vastly under-reported. The study by Oceana cites how civil penalties for violating offshore operating requirements are capped at $44,675 a day per violation, while operating costs for offshore drilling facilities can be approximately $1 million per day.

"Less safety and more drilling is a recipe for disaster," says Diane Hoskins, campaign director at Oceana. "President Trump must drastically reverse course in order to prevent another BP Deepwater Horizon-like disaster."

Hoskins elaborates by saying that we should be not be expanding "dirty and dangerous offshore drilling" to new areas that opposed the process across bipartisan lines.

"We should be strengthening safety, not further weakening the few safety measures currently in place," Hoskins says. "Costal communities and our environment cannot afford another environmental catastrophe, which is where we are headed under President Trump's proposals."

Karla Marshall, a public affairs officer at BSEE, disputes several of the study's claims, including how the agency is understaffed. She says BSEE increased their inspector ranks to 125, about twice the number that were on staff in 2010. Marshall says the agency also performs annual inspections of all production facilities as required by law.

"BSEE has made significant advances in technology, safety and environmental management systems, inspection strategies and risk management, and the regulatory framework since 2010," Marshall says. "All of these factors help to decrease the risk of another incident occurring on the U.S. OCS."

Earlier this month, Trump signed executive orders that enable companies to accelerate the process of building gas and oil pipeline projects. The orders also make it harder for states to halt them from doing so.

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