Coast Guard officials have determined that a new oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico polluted Louisiana beaches—and possibly barrier islands—over the weekend. A drilling site in the process of being plugged was responsible for the spill, according to a Coast Guard marine unit—and has since been secured. In what’s being treated as a separate incident, two calls were made this past weekend to the National Response Center concerning a worrisome sheen spotted on the Gulf near Grand Isle, Louisiana, that the first caller reported as being a half-mile long; two hours later, a caller reported a slick in the same spot that appeared to be 100 miles long. The slick was first discovered by pilot and NASA physicist Bonny Schumaker, who leads the animal conservation group On Wings of Care. She reported that the slick was spreading rapidly. The Coast Guard contends that the darkened water is likely sediment that has washed from the Mississippi River and may have been stirred up by dredging operations. They told The Times-Picayune that so far water samples have contained “only trace amounts of petroleum hydrocarbons, oil and grease.”
Miyoko Sakashita, the oceans director at the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) said that continued oil leaks and slicks in the Gulf is more indication of the poor government oversight of offshore drilling operations, even in light of the terrible impacts of last year’s oil spill which released more than 4.9 million barrels of crude oil into the Gulf. And new permits for offshore drilling have resumed—with Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar issuing three new deepwater drilling permits in the past month, with new safety standards but without environmental review, according to CBD. Salazar has also indicated that such permits—both for onshore and offshore drilling—will jump considerably this year. Businessweek reports that, according to Salazar, “at the request of President Barack Obama, the Interior Department is looking at incentives for companies to begin production on the 70 percent of offshore leases not in production, as well as the 29 million acres onshore that aren’t being developed.”
Despite the continued environmental after-effects of last year’s oil spill, including loss of sea turtles, birds, whales and bluefin tuna (and possibly continued harmful impacts on their spawning ability) as well as dolphin miscarriages (more than 80 dead dolphins were found on the coast, CBD reports), new drilling is being encouraged as an answer to the nation’s oil dependency.
Before any more drilling is undertaken, Sakashita says, the impact of last year’s spill must be fully understood—from how the oil has damaged wildlife, to the long-term impacts of the chemical dispersants used in cleanup operations. “So far, the government response to the BP oil spill has been incomplete,” he says in a recent statement. “Until and unless offshore drilling comes into compliance with our environmental laws and risky drilling is made safe, new offshore drilling must stop.” Sakashita adds: “There must also be a permanent ban on offshore drilling in the Arctic, where harsh conditions make oil spill response impossible.”