While the BP oil spill may be unique in its size and impact, the April 20, 2010 accident isn’t the first time that the United States has had to deal with an oil spill and its devastating consequences. There have been numerous opportunities to learn from the spills of the past; however, many of the same tactics, techniques and mistakes are being repeated today.
In June 1979 there was an oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, which at the time was unmatched in its size. Interestingly, many of the tactics that BP executives have tried, including the top hat, top kill, chemical dispersants and booms, were used in the 1979 clean-up effort with relatively little success despite the fact that the spill was located in only about 200 feet of water, whereas the BP spill is in about 5,000 feet of water. The solution to the 1979 spill was ultimately relief wells, which took nine months to completely stop the flow of oil. BP executives have stated that a relief well won’t be in place until at least August.
Another unfortunate similarity between oil spills are the health effects that workers have started to experience from cleaning up the BP spill. Similar to the Exxon Valdez spill, workers have been experiencing headaches, vomiting, nausea and respiratory problems. These health issues can often be prevented with the use of protective gear; however, BP has only been providing this necessary equipment to a limited group of workers. These health effects can also be hard for workers to prove because the symptoms will often go away when the worker has been removed from the clean-up site.
Hopefully, more lessons will be taken away from the BP spill so that if another accident should occur, it can be cleaned up and resolved much sooner.