Five Years After The Big Spill: Drilling, Questions Continue In The Gulf

Deep in the Gulf of Mexico, far from public sight but still under close scrutiny by scientists, federal agencies and the energy industry, a massive smear of oil sits at the bottom of the ocean like a dirty bath tub ring.

(From Miami Herald / by Jenny Staletovich) — The ring is the remnant of the worst offshore drilling catastrophe in U.S. history — the April 20, 2010, explosion of BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig that killed 11 workers and spilled at least three million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico during an 87-day struggle to cap a deep-sea gusher.

In the five years since, federal and industry probes have detailed a string of shortcuts, errors and lax oversight that combined to trigger the blowout. Regulators once cozy with the industry were reorganized. Drillers were forced to admit that safety measures had not kept pace with the heightened risks of deep ocean exploration.

With the Gulf serving as a vast Petri dish, scientists have collected an unprecedented amount of data that led to new discoveries about how oil and water mix and how petrochemicals damage sea life — though they stress it will take more than a half decade to understand long-term effects on the complex system.

For all the billions spent — BP calculates the total at more than $29 billion so far — two thing are clear: The oil and gas industry will keep drilling and, despite tougher safety standards and better response plans, there is no guarantee it won’t happen again.

“This is such a high risk business, even the most aggressive programs can’t give you an insurance policy against another spill,” said former Florida Sen. Bob Graham, who co-chaired the presidential commission that investigated the blowout and ways to stop future ones.

Five years later, that’s among the most sobering of lessons from The Big Spill.

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