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Why Canadians shouldn't forget the BP Oil Spill

Dark clouds of smoke spread as oil burns on May 6, 2010

Dark clouds of smoke spread as oil burns on May 6, 2010

Daksha Rangan
Digital Reporter

Tuesday, June 10, 2014, 2:41 PM -

It has been four years since the U.S. faced the largest environmental disaster in its history. 

British Petroleum's (BP) oil spill resulted in damage to the habitats and well-being of marine wildlife, while also causing the deaths of 11 workers and injury to 17 others. Approximately 200 million gallons of crude oil leaked into the Gulf of Mexico.

Susan Shaw, founder of the Marine Environmental Research Institute in the U.S. was in Halifax recently to deliver a lecture on revisiting the Gulf oil spill. In an interview with The Weather Network’s Nathan Coleman, Shaw talks about why Canada should still be paying attention to the aftermath of the incident. She stresses the importance of lessons to be learned due to Canada’s offshore drilling on the Scotian Shelf, a project currently underway.

Shaw said if a major spill did occur, the results could actually be worse than the Gulf of Mexico.

“I think the conditions here are much more challenging.  There’s deep cold water. There are severe storms. It’s an isolated coast. It would be very hard to get to the spill and contain it and you know, collect the oil out in those waters so it’s also the macro tidal effect in the Bay of Fundy where you have many species at risk,” Shaw said.

During the spill, Shaw was asked to look into the use of dispersants to contain it. Dispersants are liquids that are applied to oil spills in order to break up the oil. They contain various solvents that aid this process. According to Shaw, dispersants are ineffective in large spills.

“Booms, berms, and burning are actually ineffective, archaic, they don’t work. They’re ridiculously out of control and they put people that are working on cleanup at high risk of exposure. The dispersant issue is something I’ve studied for a long time and done a lot of work with. The dispersants that are applied to an oil spill are toxic in themselves,” Shaw said.

Nearly 2 million gallons of toxic dispersants were sprayed into the Gulf’s waters.

In a world powered by mobility and accessibility, it’s no surprise that the oil industry provides tremendous economic potential. Despite these benefits, Shaw said that the industry should be tightly regulated. She explains that the oil industry uses deep-water platforms offshore and does not have a complete handle on the technology.

“They’ve actually only recently learned what caused the blowout preventer not to work in the Gulf of Mexico. The technology, they’re on a learning curve with this technology, and, of course it’s getting better all the time, but with the political climate we’re in, where the government, and this is also true in the U.S., wants to pursue the industry development, you have the industry self-regulating pretty much. And the environment and public health are not the main conversation, it’s the economics.”

The environmental impacts of the oil industry have certainly left an impression after April 2010. It’s estimated that more than 80,000 birds and as many as 25,900 marine mammals may have been harmed by the spill to date. Marine vegetation and terrestrial mammals were also severely harmed.

U.S. Supreme Court recently declined a request from British Petroleum (BP) to block payments to businesses while the oil superpower appeals the Gulf spill settlement. As a result, BP will have to continue paying millions to companies affected by the spill in 2010, even though the business cannot prove direct harm.

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