A million gallons of oil spilled in the Gulf of Mexico. Who will clean it up? (Editorial)

In this photo provided by the U.S. Coast Guard, a Clean Gulf Associates 95-foot response vessel skims crude oil approximately 4 miles southeast off South Pass Louisiana, Friday, Nov. 17, 2023. A Unified Command composed of the Coast Guard, Main Pass Oil Gathering Company, LLC, and the Louisiana Oil Spill Coordinator’s Office is coordinating measures to assess, contain and mitigate the impact of the spill. (U.S. Coast Guard/Courtesy Clean Gulf Associates via AP)Associated Press

An initial report made to the Coast Guard on Nov. 16 said a pipeline rupture near the mouth of the Mississippi River released a maximum of 1.1 million gallons into the Gulf of Mexico.

Photo courtesy of the United States Coast Guard

Oil-soaked pelicans. Mutated fish and shrimp. Dead baby dolphins washing up on the shore. A massive dark slick casting an ominous pall on the cerulean Gulf of Mexico. 

These disturbing images from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster are deeply embedded in the consciousness of Gulf Coast residents, the frame of reference whenever a new oil spill is spotted in our waters. As disastrous as that spill was, unleashing an estimated 134 million gallons of oil, it also set an unreasonably high threshold for public alarm when it comes to the impacts of offshore drilling. In the years since, dozens of fires and explosions have occurred in the Gulf of Mexico, yet few garnered nearly as much media attention or public outcry. The thinking seems to be that as long as these leaks are out of sight and out of mind, far from the view of our shoreline, why worry? 


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The latest reported oil spill in the Gulf, roughly 19 miles offshore of the Mississippi River Delta has, so far, generated a relatively muted response considering it would be among the largest recorded spills in American history. On Nov. 16, Third Coast Infrastructure, a Houston-based energy company that operates a 67-mile long pipeline in the Gulf, reported a leak to the Natural Resources Conservation Service after a “pressure anomaly” in its pipeline. Although the company did not know the specific cause or location of the leak, aerial photographers later confirmed a roughly 4-mile-wide slick. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration estimated that roughly 1.1 million gallons of crude had been released in the Gulf, halting offshore production for a number of Houston-area companies. 

While the U.S. Coast Guard reported Tuesday that the spill appeared to have mostly dissipated thanks to choppy Gulf waters, the precise location and cause of the leak remain a mystery. The Coast Guard said it inspected nearly 40 miles of the Third Coast pipeline “with no damages or indications of a leak identified.” That, after nearly two weeks, first responders and regulators have not identified a responsible party is a sign of how difficult these environments can be — one specialist told the Chronicle’s Amanda Drane that pinpointing a leak is “like trying to find a needle in a haystack.” Still, the lack of urgency from the Louisiana state government is puzzling. When a comparably smaller oil spill occurred off the coast of California two years ago, Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency, marshaling every government resource necessary to mitigate the damage and plug the leak. We urge Gov. John Bel Edwards to spearhead a similarly aggressive response.

While the most recent Coast Guard assessments report no wildlife or shoreline impacts, those accounts were disputed by a regional coordinator from U.S. Fish and Wildlife who spotted oiled pelicans from a monitoring vessel days after the spill was reported. Even more disturbing impacts from this spill could be felt below the ocean surface, where the oil emulsifies into a mousse-like substance affecting a wide range of marine life from the tiniest zooplankton to critically endangered species such as Rice’s whales

Measuring these impacts will likely take many years, which is why we are pleased that NOAA has already launched a Natural Resource Damage Assessment in response to the leak. When done right, this process can lead to massive financial settlements that can be used to boost future oil cleanups, restore damaged habitats and improve water quality. The Deepwater Horizon spill, for instance, led to a $21 billion settlement disbursed across five Gulf Coast states, including Texas. Those funds have been used to build back our coastal wetlands and dunes destroyed by the oil spill, as well as making fishing companies whole after losing millions of dollars from the marine life damage.


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The first step, however, is for the Coast Guard and other first responders to identify the culprit as quickly as possible. Public Citizen, a nonprofit consumer advocacy watchdog, noted that the company that reported the leak, Third Coast Infrastructure, is a subsidiary of IIF, a private equity company controlled by banking giant JPMorgan. Untangling this shadowy chain of LLCs will be crucial to determining which company is responsible for paying out any restitution. 

Too often, the natural environment is sacrificed to satisfy our nation’s insatiable appetite for oil and gas. The least the federal government can do is respond to a million-gallon oil spill in public waters with a sense of urgency that signals a basic interest in accountability.  

This article was originally published by a www.houstonchronicle.com . Read the Original article here. .