Four years later, BP oil spill still reverberates

April 22, 2014 

Four years after the environmentally catastrophic BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, Florida continues to grapple with the damage.

A University of South Florida study issued in March revealed that dissolved oil from the estimated 176 million to 206 million gallons that gushed into the waters off the Louisiana coast sickened aquatic life off shore of Manatee County and further south.

The April 20, 2010 explosion on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig and well leak destroyed the idea offshore drilling is a safe practice that only suffers from minor environmental impacts.

But the good news is that stronger safety measures are dimishing the chances of a repeat disaster, and various governments have adopted quicker and broader emergency response policies -- including Manatee County.

However, the ecological toll figures to impact the Gulf for years to come. The harm includes the seabottom, essential to the marine food chain. Researchers are finding that contamination leads to marine life DNA damage, most notably discovered in bottlenose dolphins.

As Herald reporter Sara Kennedy chronciled on Sunday, some dolphins in Sarasota Bay show signs of BP contamination -- 7 percent out of the sample which registered a "guarded" prognonsis, according to Randall S. Wells of the Chicago Zoological Society's Sarasota Dolphin Research Program based out of Mote Marine Laboratory.

BP deserves credit for financing a broad environmental and economic recovery, spending more than $13 billion in individual, business and government claims and another $14 billion on response and cleanup activities.

The local affects pale in comparison to the ones seen on the Florida Panhandle and other major Gulf coast shorelines and waters. But the oil spill stretched out some 360 square miles, and the far-reaching leak also polluted Florida's economy.

Manatee County cannot rest easy about the threat from offshore oil drilling, and the Obama administration should be cautious about expanding Gulf drilling as the nation grows energy independence from land wells.

While Manatee County never witnessed the devastating impacts of tar balls and other coastal damage, we still took an economic hit from the slide in the tourism and real estate industries. Plus, our commercial and recreational fishing industries, dependent on clean water and healthy catches, also suffered.

The only positive takeaway from the disaster is a stronger emergency preparedness response now in place for a quicker recovery should this occur again.

Oil pushed ashore by tides will be the primary fear in all spills, but the unfortunate lasting legacy cannot be so easily seen.

Charlie Hunsicker, Manatee County's director of parks and natural resources, articulated that point in Kennedy's report:

"We've also learned that surface oil, when dispersed in remote environmentally-sensitive areas, carries a great cost to the fish, birds and other wildlife that depend upon those marshes for survival.

"Mere hopes of scraping oil off our recreational beaches is not enough to proclaim victory in beating back the effects of a spill."

Let that be a warning. The Gulf of Mexico is a critical to the economies of Florida and all the other seafront states.

Scientific research has yet to fully measure all the environmental repercussions, and gambling on chancy deep-water drilling such as the BP disaster raises the issue again.

On the fourth anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon explosion, we should again look back with trepidation -- and pause the expansion fo Gulf drilling. Yes, safety standards are better but not fool-proof.

The Obama administration reportedly intends to increase drilling across another 94 million acres of Gulf waters by 2017 -- quite a boost from the 31 million acres today.

We're still learning the lessons from 2010. Let us not forget what's already crystal clear. Deepwater drilling is hazardous and carries major risks.

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