Today is the third anniversary of BP's Gulf of Mexico oil disaster, and according to a major new investigate piece by Mark Hertsgaard, it was even worse than we knew at the time. A few major points from the article bear emphasis:
- This was the "largest accidental oil leak in world history," with "210 million gallons of Louisiana sweet crude [having] escaped into the Gulf of Mexico."
- Today, almost nobody is talking about it. Why not? Because "BP mounted a cover-up that concealed the full extent of its crimes from public view," making the disaster appear "much less extensive and destructive than it actually was."
- Now, an "anonymous whistleblower has provided evidence that BP was warned in advance about the safety risks of attempting to cover up its leaking oil," yet the company "withheld these safety warnings, as well as protective measures, both from the thousands of workers hired for the cleanup and from the millions of Gulf Coast residents who stood to be affected."
- There are "enormous" financial implications at stake here: BP would be fined $1,100 per barrel if found guilty of "negligence," but nearly four times that amount ($4,300 per barrel) "if found guilty of 'gross negligence.'"
- The "chief instrument" in BP's cover-up? It turns out it was Corexit - "the same substance that apparently sickened Jamie Griffin and countless other cleanup workers and local residents," but which "served a public-relations purpose" by "keeping the oil from reaching Gulf Coast shorelines."
- The problem is, Corexit is not safe: combined with the spilled oil, it caused health impacts to Gulf Coast residents, as well as "terrible damage to gulf wildlife and ecosystems."
- BP also continually lied, throughout the disaster, about how much oil was spewing out: BP claimed 5,000 barrels per day, while privately estimating that "the runaway well could be leaking from 62,000 barrels a day to 146,000 barrels a day."
- Today, the article concludes: "the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history has been whitewashed—its true dimensions obscured, its victims forgotten, its lessons ignored. Who says cover-ups never works?"
Now, this is what journalism is all about: digging for the facts, uncovering corruption, and getting that information out to the public so they can know exactly what's going on. Then, it's up to policymakers to use this information accordingly. Our advise? Tighten regulations on the dirty, dangerous fossil fuel industry, and supercharge the transition to a clean energy economy, one in which a "big spill" is better known as a "beautiful, sunny day."