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Home » Opinion

Effects of the Gulf Oil Spill Disaster – A prediction

Submitted by on June 23, 2010 – 8:39 pmNo Comment
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By Jamey Perkins

I’ve spent some time this morning researching any health hazards associated with crude oil that is spilling into the Gulf of Mexico. Articles and releases from departments of public health, OSHA, and even the EPA all seem to conclude that human toxicological hazards are minimal. Basically they all say that outside of some rare prolonged direct exposure to the crude oil, there are relatively few health concerns from skin and respiratory contact. The preface being “prolonged exposure”.

Let’s take a look back in history

In 1989, the Exxon Valdez oil tanker spilled about 11 million U.S. gallons of oil into Alaska’s Prince William Sound. In 2007, a study by NOAA determined that as much as 26 thousand gallons still remains on the shores, and is only degrading at a slow 4% each year.

Also, in a similar report by NOAA almost 11 years after the spill, this excerpt stands out to me.

“Buried or subsurface oil is of greater concern than surface oil. Subsurface oil can remain dormant for many years before being dispersed and is more liquid, still toxic, and may become biologically available. A disturbance event such as burrowing animals or a severe storm reworks the beach and can reintroduce unweathered oil into the water.”
Oil Spill
In this report from the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council severe problems still remain. Although many wildlife inhabitants have returned, many are still slow to come back to pre-spill numbers and few faced near extinction numbers. Also, local communities that relied on fishing as an industry have had to seek other means. Many of the hatcheries in the area have never reopened or have never seen supplies return from their pre-spill status. Think about it. It has been more than 20 years since this spill occurred and the effects are still very real. If we see this same trend in our Gulf of Mexico, it would mean that a 10 year old child of the area today could still be dealing with these problems well into their 30’s.

BP’s responsibility and costs

British Petroleum (BP), the owner and responsible party to the oil rig that caused this spill, has issued statements time and time again of how they will “make it right” in the Gulf of Mexico. They have even pledged 20 billion dollars towards a fund to assist in the cleanup and recovery efforts for the residents, businesses, and environment. But, even if that money remains available, is it enough?

In this independent report by the Getner Consulting Group, it outlines losses that could be expected in ONLY the sport fishing and charter fishing industries. In this report, it states that it is possible to see losses of revenue for these businesses in excess of 14 billion dollars. That’s just for sport fishing!! If this report should show true, then nearly all of the money pledged by BP would go towards only this industry! This does not even begin to cover the loss of wages from the more than a quarter of a million jobs lost.

In the case of the Exxon Valdeez, it was ordered originally that Exxon should pay $287 million in actual damages and $5 billion in punitive damages. However, after several appeals, the costs incurred to Exxon were reduced significantly. Does this also mean that we may be facing a time when BP appeals their claims and ends up not even having to pay what it has already stated it was responsible for? In the case of Exxon, the final litigation came down to whether or not the Exxon spill was of accidental cause or caused by malice.

Other costs will be incurred by the disaster. Among some of them will be cleanup costs, payment for lawsuits, costs associated with wildlife conservation and preservation, and not to mention any costs created by human health issues during cleanup and future illnesses. Can BP actually fulfill its responsibility?

What about the outcome of family and tradition. The fishing industry is an industry of heritage. Fishing and even tourism business is largely passed from generation to generation. Due to this oil spill, many family owned and operated businesses will be closing their doors for good. How will that affect the future of their children? Can a cost really be placed on tradition and heritage? It’s doubtful, but it should still be considered as the when realizing the overall consequence of what has happened.

Is British Petroleum even capable of covering the costs?

Despite what it says right now, I think that valid questions should be raised in regards to BP’s ability to cover all of the costs associated with this spill. In fact, I think it could be reasonable to assume that it cannot even come close to covering them. BP has been a profitable company, without question. However, when looking at the short and long term costs, one has to assume that there is not a company on this planet that can truly afford to make those restitutions.

Trying to predict the outcome

One thing we can be certain of is that despite what anyone claims, the Gulf of Mexico will NEVER recover fully from this disaster. The loss of even one species of life due to this disaster could leave devastating effects. Already, we see closures in business, and struggles among residents along the affected coastal areas. Many complain that they have not received any aid or even very little.

Let’s inject this very realistic scenario, and even submit that BP may make every possible effort to “make things right”, as they have claimed. What if the costs just simply become too much for one company to handle? What if BP should fall to bankruptcy? Seeing their stock prices already reach lows of nearly 50% makes bankruptcy not out of the question. I saw a report a few days ago that suggested that nearly 6% of the world has some ties to BP stock. That number is simply astonishing. Who picks up the slack in payments and costs if this should happen?

Even if BP should continue to stay in operation and remain able to keep up in the cleanup and recovery effort, we have a lot of dismay to look forward to. If the Exxon Valdez disaster is any example, even the next generation of adults will still be working to clean this up. This also means that nearly all of the current BP execs would be either retired or facing retirement.

Also, we know that in the case of Exxon, later court appeals significantly reduced the liability of Exxon. Surely we cannot sit here and expect that BP will not also be filing some of those same appeals. In fact, if one watches the responses and actions of BP presently, it almost seems as though they are already leaving themselves set up for those appeals. The recent Senate hearings asked many questions of BP CEO Tony Hayward. Among those questions were some that attempted to get Mr. Hayward to accept responsibility of BP for the full extent of the disaster. His answers left even more questions. In most cases, he deferred his answer pending an investigation done by BP! This leaves a person to speculate that BP is already trying to limit their legal liability. Is this perhaps for future litigation?

My predictions of the Gulf Oil Disaster and its impact on the future

This disaster will continue to affect the daily lives of U.S. residents for years, and the residents of the gulf coastal areas can expect to see these effects last possibly 20 to 30 more years. I will speculate that if BP even survives, they will almost certainly not be able to cover its responsibility, and in the future, they will even spend a great deal of money trying to escape much or a majority of their liability. I would also predict that the government of the U.S. will end up bearing the majority of the costs, which will undoubtedly be pushed right back to the citizens of the entire country. This will no doubt cause a great deal of debate in our country over taxes that would have to be imposed to help recoup the costs, and costs of any new laws that will undoubtedly become real as a result of this disaster.

10 years after the well is finally capped, we may start to see the beginnings of return to our fishing and tourism industries in the gulf. Cleanup efforts along the coast will still undoubtedly be underway and even more expensive efforts will be going to clean the sea floor. We will also be just getting a glimpse of the huge impact on the ecosystem in the Gulf of Mexico. We will probably still be spending large amounts of money to attempt to save many species from extinction or endangerment. We will also only begin to understand how this spill has affected the land, air, and sea environment as a whole. By now, the U.S. has will also have imposed taxes on oil companies themselves for drilling in U.S. waters, as a result of this spill.

In 20 years after the oil well is capped, our children of today will be realizing the devastation that has been left for them. Though much of the work towards recovery and cleanup will most certainly be done, we will no doubt be leaving some of this for our children to attend. There will still be existence of loose oil buried in the sands of some coastlines and sea beds. They will not have the luxury of seeing some of the marine life in the area that exists today. They will still be spending a great deal of money to continue our current efforts in recovery. They almost certainly will be using this spill as a pretext for future legislations and their children (our grandchildren) will be reading of this disaster in text books.

25 years after the oil well is capped cleanup and recovery efforts will be mostly complete. However, American citizens will be realizing that the taxes that were imposed 20 years earlier will continue to be paid. Yes, our children could likely be paying for the costs of this disaster for the rest of their lives. Perhaps in this time line, our dependency on oil related energies will be much lower. However, any that do still exist will still be paying higher taxes as part of the restitution of a spill 25 years earlier.

In closing

Obviously, I think that we will be paying for this disaster for a great many years to come. I also think that BP itself will, in the grand spectrum of things, payback very little. I think that because of our country’s lack of aggressively seeking out alternative resources to oil, our children will be left with a great burden, and the Gulf disaster will most likely only play a small role in that burden. I believe that at this date, we have no concept of the realities and role that this disaster will leave for us. Even the extinction of a microbe can hold dire consequences for us. If there is a life that relies on it, a chained disturbance is caused by its disappearance. All we can do right now is speculate as to the tragedy that is before us in the Gulf of Mexico. Only time will tell.

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