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Six years after BP’s offshore oil rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, media outlets are detailing new research that shows how the spill continues to harm wildlife and the local environment. These reports stand in stark contrast to the countless times conservative media defended BP and downplayed the disaster’s catastrophic impacts.
The Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded on April 20, 2010, killing 11 workers and causing the worst oil spill in U.S. history, which devastated the region’s ecosystem and economy. The magnitude of the spill was so great that new evidence of its long-lasting impacts continues to surface six years later in research and media coverage.
US News & World Report: The BP Spill Is Responsible For A “Die-Off Of Baby Dolphins.” On April 12, U.S. News & World Report covered a recent study by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) finding that “[m]ore than 170 stillborn and juvenile bottlenose dolphins found stranded in recent years along the Gulf Coast were likely killed by oil from the April 2010 explosion of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig.” The article further reported:
Scientists observed a spike in stranded stillborn and juvenile dolphins along Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana's shores from 2010 to 2013. Researchers now believe the dolphins' mothers suffered chronic illnesses after being exposed to oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill off the coast of Louisiana.
"Our new findings add to the mounting evidence from peer-reviewed studies that exposure to petroleum compounds following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill severely harmed the reproductive health of dolphin living in the oil spill footprint in the northern Gulf of Mexico," veterinarian and study co-author Teri Rowles, head of NOAA's Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program, said in a statement.
The oil spill's long-term effects on dolphins' reproduction remain unclear.
More than 1,400 dead dolphins and whales – collectively referred to as cetaceans – have washed up on the Gulf's shores since the disaster, far more than the average before the spill. Federal officials have declared an "unusual mortality event" for cetaceans in the region, which remains ongoing.
The Tampa Tribune: Spill May Have Long-Term Effects On Fish Health. The Tampa Tribune reported on April 18 that researchers at the University of South Florida (USF) are just “beginning to chart the long-term effects of one of the biggest environmental disasters in history.” For one, the scientists are examining the long-term effects on both shallow and deepwater fish:
No contaminated fish have made their way to the seafood market, said Steven Murawski, a professor of population dynamics and marine ecosystem analysis at USF, but researchers are still trying to figure out how many generations of fish may be affected by the spill.
Now, researchers are working to determine if the spill has had any long-term effect on fish DNA by attempting to grow second generations of affected fish at Mote Marine in Sarasota. The production of baby red snapper has fallen in the eastern gulf, for example, but researchers can’t yet say if that’s a result of the spill or natural cycling.
The fish can metabolize some oil components and were only exposed to lower, sub-lethal concentrations of toxins because the oil that escaped the well was a light form of crude, but there are still questions surrounding the effects of long-term exposure, [USF scientist David] Hollander said.
“It’s like if you stick your head in a paint can and smell the fumes you would get a headache, but what are the results if you painted a room and went to sleep in it so you’re breathing those fumes for a lot longer?” Hollander said.
National Geographic: The Oil Spill Was Even Bigger Than Previously Thought. On April 20, National Geographic reported on a new study finding that the BP oil spill was even bigger than previously thought -- 19 percent bigger, to be exact. From National Geographic:
Scientists from the federal government's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and several private research companies found oil along 1,313 miles (2,113 kilometers) out of 5,930 miles (9,545 kilometers) of surveyed shoreline after the spill, an increase of 19 percent from previously published estimates. That makes the disaster the largest marine oil spill in history by length of shoreline oiled, the team reported in the journal Marine Pollution Bulletin.
The scientists found the majority of the oiling in Louisiana, with significant oiling in Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, and, to a lesser extent, Texas.
National Geographic also reported that approximately “30 percent of the oil thought to have been spilled is still unaccounted for,” adding that some scientists think “it must have sunk to the ocean bottom, where it may be harming communities there.”
But Media Shouldn't Forget Factors That Could Lead To Next Big Spill
On the five-year anniversary of the worst oil spill in U.S. history, television reporters detailed the devastating environmental and economic impacts still facing the Gulf Coast region today, and directly rebutted BP's misleading spin. But they should not lose sight of another equally-important part of the story: how increasingly risky and expansive offshore drilling practices, along with insufficient oversight, could lead to another major spill.
BP is trying very hard to convince the world that the Gulf of Mexico has recovered from the oil well explosion that killed 11 workers and devastated the region's ecosystem and economy -- but television reporters spent the five-year anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon disaster picking apart BP's claims. MSNBC's Chris Hayes asserted: "As much as BP wants you to think it's all better, it's really not." NBC's Kerry Sanders called out BP's misleading advertisements on Today, rebutting BP's claim that "seafood catches are back to pre-spill levels" by reporting that Louisiana oyster harvest levels have actually decreased by nearly 25 percent. Fox News' Shepard Smith lambasted BP's public relations campaign -- recalling his past criticism of BP, which stood in stark contrast to the rest of the network's BP-friendly coverage in the aftermath of the spill. Smith teased a segment on his show by asking rhetorically: "Five years later you see the BP commercials, everything is great. Right?" He then answered his own question, detailing the tourism and wildlife damages that still exist, and concluding: "Five years later, this ain't over."
It's encouraging to see media figures debunk BP's misleading public relations campaign, which comes as the company seeks to reduce the up to $13.7 billion in Clean Water Act fines it faces if a federal judge r efuses to reconsider a ruling that BP was "grossly negligent" in its handling of the disaster.
But the media should continue to explore the many reasons that offshore drilling still poses immense, inherent risks.
A BP executive dismissed the environmental impacts of the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill and the company's role in the disaster in an opinion article for Politico Magazine, while the company is attempting to overturn a court decision finding it "grossly negligent." But the effects of one of the worst environmental disasters in U.S. history are still being felt in the region today.
Four years after BP's Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded in the Gulf, BP's senior vice president of communications and external affairs Geoff Morrell attempted to argue that previous "dire predictions" about the environmental effects of the spill had been overblown. In an October 21 Politico Magazine article, Morell wrote that a yet-to-be-completed environmental assessment -- funded by BP -- will show that "the Gulf environment is rebounding and that most of the environmental impact was of short duration and in a limited geographic area."
But Morrell's Politico Magazine article was misleading. Wildlife in the region is still experiencing the consequences of the spill, according to a recent report from the National Wildlife Federation (NWF). The NWF studied 14 species that have suffered effects from the spill, including the ongoing illness of bottlenose dolphins and a "dramatic increase" in sea turtle deaths. The report concluded that more needs to be done to speed up the region's recovery. CBS reported of its findings: "No matter how much money is exchanged and what efforts are done, there remains no guarantee that the Gulf Coast regions will fully recover to pre-spill conditions."
Morrell also made the mistaken claim that bacteria in the Gulf's waters "adapted over time to feast on oil," which he claimed showed the Gulf's "inherent resilience" in recovering from the spill. But the bacteria's appetite for oil "die[d] down five months" after the oil rig explosion, according to a team of researchers at Rochester University.
BP is currently attempting to overturn the recent court verdict that the company was "grossly negligent" in advance of and in response to the spill. The verdict, which assigns BP the majority of the blame, sets the financial penalties the company may have to pay at as much as $18 billion.
The night before the court decision was first announced, Morrell blamed "opportunistic" environmentalists for over-exaggerating the spill's environmental impacts and journalists for "under-report[ing]" the company's cleanup efforts. He echoed this argument in the October Politico Magazine article, writing that "we should not be accountable for damages caused by the acts of others, or those conjured up by opportunistic advocacy groups."
Politico has touted its magazine, which launched last November, as containing "consequential stories that are not always the stuff of daily headlines" and aiming "to fill a dangerous vacuum in the rapidly transitioning world of journalism, with too few really big takes on big subjects holding leaders in Washington and beyond accountable."
When BP's Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded in 2010, Fox News pundits rushed to the corporation's defense with excuses ranging from pitiful to conspiratorial. But now the ruling is out, exposing the falsities of Fox's defense: BP was to blame for the worst oil spill in U.S. history.
Fox News pundits pulled out all the stops to deflect blame from BP when the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico exploded in 2010, killing 11 workers and causing devastating environmental impacts. They accused environmentalists and the government for "forcing" the company to drill further from shore and touted conspiracy theories. The network berated the Obama administration for "villainiz[ing]" and "demonizing" the corporation and compared Congressional hearings on the disaster to "Soviet-style" trials and "Inca ritual slaughter":
A federal court, however, ruled on September 4 that BP was largely responsible for the disaster -- not the scapegoats that Fox News tried to pin the blame on.
Watch the difference between Fox News' spurious defense and the facts:
A federal judge assigned 67 percent of the blame to BP, concluding that the corporation acted in "gross negligence" and "willful misconduct." The Wall Street Journal reported on several instances where the court found that BP forewent safety measures in the name of profit:
Struggling with a dangerously unstable oil well in April 2010, BP chose to drill an additional 100 feet into a fragile rock formation thousands of feet beneath the Gulf of Mexico.
That decision set in motion a series of failures that led to the deadly Deepwater Horizon catastrophe and the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history, a federal judge ruled Thursday.
"BP's decision to drill the final 100 feet was the initial link in a chain that concluded with the blowout, explosion and oil spill," Judge Carl Barbier wrote. The decision "was dangerous," he added, and "motivated by profit."
Video created by Coleman Lowndes.
Oil Giant Agrees To Pay $4.5 Billion, Plead Guilty To 12 Felonies
BP announced that they will settle with the federal government for $4.5 billion and plead guilty to 12 felony counts related to the massive 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. At the time, the company received a vigorous defense from Fox News and others in the conservative media, which accused President Obama of "demonizing" the company for its role in the environmental disaster which killed 11 workers and caused billions of dollars in damage.
CBS News reported November 15:
Oil giant BP said Thursday it has agreed to pay the largest criminal penalty in U.S. history for the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
The company announced that it will pay $4.5 billion to settle with the federal government. The largest previous corporate criminal penalty assessed by the Department of Justice was the $1.2 billion fine imposed on drug maker Pfizer in 2009.
Meanwhile, a source close to the case confirmed to CBS News Thursday that two BP employees face manslaughter charges over the death of 11 people in the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig that triggered the massive spill.
The person, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak on the record about the deal, also confirmed that BP will plead guilty to obstruction for lying to Congress for its statements on the size of the leak.
At the time, right-wing media figures attacked congressional hearings on the spill as, in the words of Rush Limbaugh, "a show trial" similar to "what happened in Stalinist Russia." Fox's Charles Krauthammer compared the congressional hearings to "Incan ritual slaughter," while Glenn Beck called them "Salem witch trials." Bill Kristol said that BP was being "persecuted by a demagogic congressional committee chairman."
Following a lengthy investigation, the national Oil Spill Commission concluded in January 2011 that "the root causes" of the BP disaster were "systematic and, absent significant reform in both industry practices and government policies, might well recur." This week the same panel of experts found that Congress "has yet to enact any legislation responding to the explosion and spill." Rather than implement the panel's recommendations, the House has actually "passed several bills" with provisions that "run contrary to what the Commission concluded was essential for safe, prudent, responsible development of offshore oil resources," said the commissioners.
So far ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN and Fox News have ignored the panel's assessment report, issued just days before the second anniversary of the worst oil spill in U.S. history. MSNBC's Dylan Ratigan was the exception, running a segment on the panel's findings and the ongoing impacts of the spill.
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In an article titled, "Bobby Jindal hammers President Obama on drilling," Politico reports that the Louisiana governor attacked Obama's response to the BP oil spill in an NBC interview today. From the article:
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal used a TV appearance Wednesday morning marking the first anniversary of the BP oil spill not only to tout the progress his state has made but also to attack President Barack Obama's response to the spill and his policies more broadly.
As he touted his state's progress, he once again criticized the Obama administration for its moratorium last summer on deepwater drilling. "One of the side effects, one of the things we need to recover from is the administration imposed a one-size-fits-all moratorium after the spill," he said. "We want drilling to be done safely but we don't want to lose thousands of jobs down here."
But the Politico article didn't mention that the signature piece of Jindal's own response to the oil spill is widely seen as a failure and a waste of time and money.
During the spill, Jindal repeatedly attacked the Obama administration for not immediately approving his plan to build sand berms to block the oil, stating in June that "The time for studies and discussion is over." In July, the New York Times reported that "almost two dozen coastal scientists from Louisiana and around the country have urged the federal government to halt the construction of sand berms in the gulf, calling the project ineffective in the fight against the oil and a waste of resources that could have heavy environmental consequences."
In October, Greenwire reported that Louisiana continued to build the berms despite ongoing concerns among scientists (via Nexis):
You just can't make this stuff up.
Back in August, local Washington, DC news anchor Doug McKelway became a conservative cause celebre after he was suspended from DC's ABC affiliate, WJLA. Conservatives cited this as an example of liberal media bias, claiming that McKelway was forced off the air for reporting the "facts" about how much money BP had donated to Barack Obama's presidential campaign.
According to the station, McKelway was suspended (and later fired) from WJLA not for his report on BP, but because he got into a "shouting match" with his boss over it.
And McKelway's comments about BP's donations to Obama weren't the "facts" at all.
McKelway claimed that the "strategy" of "far left environmental groups" rallying against members of Congress who have "dirty oil money on their hands" is a "risky" one, "because the one man who has more campaign contributions from BP than anybody else in history is now sitting in the Oval Office -- President Barack Obama -- who accepted $77,051 in campaign contributions from BP."
But Obama's presidential campaign did not receive donations from the BP corporation. While Obama's Senate campaign did receive a total of $1,000 from BP's PAC in 2004, the donation was less than what 21 other Senate candidates received from the BP PAC that year. The figure that McKelway uses in his report is the amount of money Obama received from employees of the company, who could have chosen to donate for any number of reasons, not simply because they thought it would benefit the corporation. That amount, by the way, accounted for only .01% of Obama's total fundraising.
In other words, McKelway is best known for a falsehood.
Wouldn't you know it? McKelway has just been hired for a new job -- at Fox News' DC bureau.
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Glenn Beck's sidekicks misleadingly cited the National Academy of Sciences during a discussion in which they suggested that "natural seeps" are evidence that "Mother Nature has a way of taking care of" oil spills. In fact, studies, including a report by The National Academies, have found that major spills can have "far greater" environmental impact than natural seepage.
In a New York Post op-ed, James Jay Carafano claimed that President Obama's message in a July 16 press conference about the Gulf oil spill was that "the crisis is over; let the vacation begin!" In fact, Obama said the opposite.
When reports first surfaced of a Taiwanese vessel named "A Whale" that could purportedly "process 21 million gallons of oily water a day," right-wing media hyped the vessel's capabilities and attacked the Obama administration for not immediately dispatching the vessel to the Gulf. It's a good thing the administration didn't listen to them.
For example [transcripts via Nexis]:
Instead, the Coast Guard and the administration proceeded with cautious optimism regarding A Whale, saying that testing would be needed to learn whether the skimmer could perform as advertised. Indeed, during a July 1 press conference, Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen said that "[w]e're anxious to find out how effective it will be. But it is a very large ship that's been converted to be able to recover oil, and we'll see how it goes."
As it turns out, those tests were probably a good idea. The Christian Science Monitor reported on July 17:
The Coast Guard said "thanks, but no thanks" to the superskimmer "A Whale" Friday, as the 1,100 foot-long converted iron ore freighter failed to make a sizeable dent in the Gulf oil spill during a 24-hour testing period.
Brought to the Gulf by Taiwanese shipping magnate Nobu Su to help sop up the vast blanket of oil covering parts of the Gulf, the massive A Whale held a tantalizing promise for Americans frustrated by the slow pace of the spill clean-up. Under ideal conditions, the ship's owners said, the A Whale could gather more oil in a day than all the other skimmers on the Gulf combined.
In reality, the A Whale gathered a "negligible" amount of oil over a 24-hour period while nearly 600 smaller skimmers sucked up 25,551 barrels of oily water and recovered 12,800 barrels near the source of the spill.
"While its stature is impressive, 'A Whale' is not ideally suited to the needs of this response," Coast Guard Admiral Paul Zukunft told the Wall Street Journal.
The A Whale's failed cruise reaffirmed the Coast Guard strategy of using a fleet of smaller vessels to corral the vast spill.
From now on, the right-wing media should just leave the oil skimming to the experts.