3 Million Pounds: The Hidden Legacy of the BP Oil Spill

from Wildlife Promise

A Bottlenose Dolphin following a boat’s wake. Photo by National Wildlife Federation Photo Contest Entrant Sara Lopez

A Bottlenose Dolphin following a boat’s wake. Photo by National Wildlife Federation Photo Contest Entrant Sara Lopez

Remember that time when your parents asked you to clean your room, and you shoved everything under the bed? I think we’ve all been there. As soon as the toys were out of sight, I know I thought that was the end of it. Three years after the tragic 2010 oil spill that claimed 11 lives and left crude oil leaking into the Gulf for 87 days, BP seems to be using the same trick to get out of cleaning up the mess they made.

Everywhere, from the courts where BP is trying to fudge the exact size of the oil spill, to the coasts of Florida, Mississippi, and Alabama, where they have declared their active cleanup work at an end, BP is trying to convince us that the spill was not as bad as we know it to be, and anyway, it’s all better now.

Just like the toys under my bed, it doesn’t take much for the real story to come tumbling out. After Tropical Storm Karen passed through Louisiana, a new 4,100 pound tar mat appeared on Fourchon BeachWhile ‘only’ 10-20 percent of the tar mat is oil, the entire mess is considered hazardous. The locals might be counting themselves “lucky” though, as this new blob is nowhere near the size of the 40,000 pound tar mat that was discovered on Grand Terre, a barrier island off the coast of Louisiana, back in June.

 

The Oil Doesn’t Lie

Dolphin mother and her calf in the Gulf. Photo by Pete Markham, Flickr

Dolphin mother and her calf in the Gulf. Photo by Pete Markham, Flickr

All of this is part of an oily collage of more than 3 million pounds of debris BP has reported so far this year. This is more than three times the amount collected last year, and is just what we can find on land. The real danger may be below the waves, where much of the oil settled.

The impact on wildlife cannot be understated, and three years later it is still being felt. Fishermen are struggling. It is also unclear what the impact on mammals at the top of the Gulf food chain will be. More than 800 bottlenose dolphins have washed ashore since the disaster began, more than 4 times average rates. Still others have been found underweight, anemic, or with signs of liver and lung disease: all symptoms consistent with other mammals exposed to oil. Yet there is no guarantee that this serious problem is getting the attention it deserves. We need to ensure that BP’s fines go to paying for Gulf habitat restoration.

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