Deepwater Horizon – Not the First Gulf Oil Leak

By IN Reporter Ryne Ziemba…

Currently, there are roughly 4,000 oil rigs off the Gulf Coast of the United States, with the exception of Florida’s coast which has yet to allow drilling off its shores. Of these thousands of oil rigs, there is an intricate system of pipes that connect the rigs to various other conduits for processing and collecting oil. If you look at a map of these rigs and pipelines, you see a confusing web which halts right on the Alabama/Florida border.

With Florida being told that its waters would be open to drilling recently, then with Gov. Charlie Crist’s statement against Florida off-shore drilling after the Deepwater Horizon leak began; Floridians could learn a lot by looking at other damaged oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico. The Deepwater Horizon disaster is not the first oil rig leak on the Gulf of Mexico-and it might not be the last.

In the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, buried beneath the human tragedy and structural damages to cities like New Orleans, were the stories of the many oil rig platforms and pipelines that were destroyed during those two storms from 2005.

A report issued by the now infamous Mineral Management Service on May 1, 2006, states that 44 oil platforms were destroyed during Hurricane Katrina and a whopping 69 platforms were destroyed during Hurricane Rita. Additionally, 457 oil pipelines were damaged during those same hurricanes, showing that the rigs and pipelines in our gulf are certainly fallible and vulnerable to decay and destruction.

To elaborate, in his case study, Hurricane Katrina and Oil Spills: Impact on Coastal and Ocean Environments, John C. Pine, Director of Disaster Science and Management at Louisiana State University, states that 50 oil spills were reported in the near shore environment after those storms. This included oil that came ashore in New Orleans’ metropolitan area in the St. Bernard Parish.

Oil spills from oil rig and pipeline damage shortly after these 2005 hurricanes added up to a immense volume, estimated to be between 6.5-9 million gallons of oil-similar in scale to the 11million gallon amount of the Exxon Valdez oil spill of 1989. A Sept. 16, 2005 article in the British newspaper, The Guardian, referred to the spillage from the Hurricane damage as being among the worst oil spills on record.

While perusing the 2009 data of incidents reported to the National Response Center, it didn’t take me long to find information about a Gulf of Mexico oil leak. On January 1, 2009 a report was filed about a caller who saw oil sheen from a Taylor Energy owned rig that had been damaged during Hurricane Ivan. For the next several days, there are different reports of others seeing the sheen from this downed, off-shore rig.

Of course, many incidents reported to the National Response Center can involve leaks of very small amounts of chemicals. However, the data from the NRC and known figures about the amount of oil spilled during Hurricanes Katrina and Rita underscore that the oil rigs drilling off-shore are far more susceptible to failure than the public is often told. And with the Obama administration’s recent waiver of environmental reviews for 26 new drilling projects, all approved without back-up plans for emergencies (as Deepwater Horizon was) it is a wonder what might happen next with off-shore drilling in the Gulf.

Thanks for the lax safety standards, Dick Cheney!