Friday, June 11, 2010

ProPublica--Rise in Offshore Spills Raises Wider Questions on Drilling

by Sasha Chavkin, ProPublica - June 10, 2010 2:59 pm EDT

The catastrophe unfolding in the Gulf of Mexico has been portrayed as a one-of-a-kind disaster, a perfect storm of bad equipment, bad planning and bad luck.

But it’s far from the only spill that’s taken place this year – or even the only spill occurring in the Gulf right now.

On June 7, the Mobile Press-Register reported that the Ocean Saratoga rig has been leaking into the Gulf since April 30. Interior Department spokeswoman Kendra Barkoff confirmed the next day that “small amounts of oil” were leaking from the wells beneath the rig, about 10 miles from Louisiana’s southeastern coast.

Taylor Energy, the well’s owner, said in a statement that it was engaged in an “ongoing well intervention plan” with the government to fix damage caused by Hurricane Ivan in 2004, and that no significant new spill had occurred.

The Deepwater Horizon isn’t the only recent spill for BP, either. On May 25, according to Reuters, an accident on the Trans-Alaska pipeline spilled thousands of barrels of oil and forced the pipeline to be shut down for more than three days. BP is the largest owner of the pipeline operator, controlling 47 percent. (Read our story about BP’s troubled history in Alaska and its other U.S. operations.)

In addition, there was the Jan. 24 spill in Port Arthur, Texas, when an Exxon-Mobil tanker collided with an outgoing vessel and dumped nearly half a million gallons of oil into the Gulf.

If it seems as if oil spills – and particularly offshore spills in US. waters – are on the rise, that’s because they are.

A USA Today analysis of federal data found that spills from offshore oil rigs and pipelines have more than quadrupled in the last decade. From the 1970s to 1990s, offshore facilities averaged four spills per year of more than 50 barrels. From 2000 to 2009, the annual average soared to 17.

The report also found that the rate of oil being spilled was increasing faster than the growth in production. From USA Today:

In the 1980s, an average of about 2,900 barrels of oil and other toxic chemicals spilled a year. That figure rose to more than 4,400 in the 1990s and to more than 6,100 in the 2000s. Offshore oil production increased during that time, but the rate of barrels spilled per barrels produced continued to increase.

The company with the most spills in the last decade was BP, which had reported 23 spills of over 50 barrels without counting the Deepwater Horizon blowout.

Why are offshore oil facilities spilling more in recent years than they have in the past? More>>>