As the rig sank to the ocean floor and the oil slick began to spread, the Coast Guard discovered that oil was actually gushing from the ocean floor, one mile beneath the surface. Officials currently estimate that up to 5,000 barrels -- 210,000 gallons -- of oil are leaking per day.
The technology used at the BP operation has been touted as themost advanced in the world, yet a safety valve that was supposed to shut off the flow of oil at the seabed in case of such an accident utterly failed to work. There is, in fact, no immediate way to stop the leaks or to clean up the oil slick -- which is larger than the state of Rhode Island and already washing up on the coastal wetlands of the Mississippi Delta region.
Hundreds of imperiled species in the Gulf will be harmed by the toxic oil, from loggerhead, green, hawksbill, and Kemp's Ridley sea turtles to the Alabama beach mouse, Gulf sturgeon, Atlantic bluefin tuna, wood stork, and piping plover. The full extent of the damage won't be known for some time, as the oil continues to gush and the response from industry and federal and state agencies appears largely ineffective to contain the spill.
As difficult as it is to deal with an oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, it is indescribably more difficult in the Arctic -- yet President Obama has authorized Shell Oil to conduct exploration drilling this summer in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas off Alaska, with the same technology that was used at the BP disaster site.There's still simply no way to clean up oil in the broken-ice conditions that prevail in these Arctic areas for much of the year. In fact, the drilling season is so short in the Arctic -- July to early October -- that leaking oil from a similar accident there could continue to gush for an entire winter.
The Gulf of Mexico disaster has shown with tragic clarity the absurdity of the administration's claims that offshore oil and gas development is safe. The Obama administration is still taking comments before giving the final go-ahead to Shell to drill through the heart of polar bear critical habitat in the Chukchi Sea this summer. Please, click here to tell the administration that offshore oil and gas development in the Arctic and elsewhere off our coasts should be taken off the table permanently.
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