Why You Haven't Heard About the Shell Oil Spill

By Melissa Aguilera on June 10, 2016

On May 12 2016,  one of Shell’s subsea flow lines began to leak and 88,200 gallons of crude oil was released into the Gulf of Mexico.

Now, why haven’t we heard of this? Why hasn’t the media been all over this? Well, oil spills aren’t considered major unless there is 100,000 gallons of oil being spilled. Due to this spill being short 11,800 gallons of crude oil, the situation is considered to not be a serious one. Oil spills in the Gulf actually occur  from a dozen times a year to a hundred, yet the media does not deem this important information. Companies are fined based on negligence, gross negligence, and the severity of the public’s outcry. If the problem is not nationally recognized, it almost always gets swept under the rug.

Image via wired.com

Three days after the spill, Shell and the Coast Guard declared the case closed because the surface of the water was “clean.” Because these smaller leaks receive less press, they also receive less regulatory oversight, making the impacts of the spill biased and independent. In addition to the lessened oversight, there is less funding for cleanup, and less funding for scientific research and samples to be taken to examine the effects of the spills on the environment. This Shell spill was actually one out of twenty plus within that month. It is up to the company who caused the spill to estimate the amount of oil being leaked and give the government that estimate. Often times oil companies give estimates less than the actual number in order to maintain a good financial and public standing.

Type 1 or 2 oils, such as jet fuel, evaporate almost immediately, however, crude oils, which are type 3 or 4, become absorbed by the oceanic environment and gum up whales’ blowholes and then some. The lingering oil, although no longer on the surface, still remains within the waters of the Gulf of Mexico, thus posing a threat of spreading to nearby shorelines and harming wildlife. Due to this crude oil’s volume, it’s difficult to say how much of it actually made its way to the surface and how much of the oil was actually spilled.

Aerial view of Shell oil spill.

Since the spill occurred 90 miles away from land and 300 feet below the surface, retrieving samples and overseeing operations is highly difficult, making it impossible, as I mentioned before, to study the effects of the spill on the environment and wildlife. Shell and the Coast Guard claims there was no harm to wildlife. If people wanted to investigate this they couldn’t because the spill was so far out of reach. When the organization Vanishing Earth flew over the gulf they witnessed pelagic fish, seabirds, porpoises, about 50 dolphins, and a beaked whale mother and her calf swimming in the oil. Schools of fish were seen swimming beneath surface oils.

Image via seaturtles.org

Scientists are growing more and more concerned over the under-reporting of these very frequent spills. These spills accumulate and clean up methods are highly limited. The main technique to clean up spills only recovers about 20% of surface oil and often even less than that. In 2010, BP lied about their daily flow rate, claiming it was at 1,000 gallons. They were forced to quintuple the estimate to 5,000 gallons, not because of government investigation, but because of evidence collected from a satellite belonging to an environmental watchdog cause called SkyTruth. It is crucial that oil spills receive mass media coverage because that is the only way they will be cleaned. The federal government must regulate oil companies, especially since there is not an adequate clean-up plan. Even small spills can have lasting horrible environmental impacts and it is up to us to talk about it, otherwise the government will not lend its immediate attention to the very serious problem.

Image via bidnessetc.com

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