Despite Gulf tragedy, more spills possible: Allen

April 18, 2011 by Karin Zeitvogel
A boy jumps off a rock along the beach as a man fishes in Dauphin Island, Alabama. Dauphin Island's beaches were impacted by oil from the BP oil spill. The United States cannot rule out another oil disaster in its waters, the official who led the response to last year's Gulf of Mexico spill told AFP, as the country marks one year since the tragedy.

The United States cannot rule out another oil disaster in its waters, the official who led the response to last year's Gulf of Mexico spill told AFP, as the country marks one year since the tragedy.

"We're never going to be able to prevent an event from happening out there," said retired Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen, who has worked on since the 1980s and led the government response to the disaster that began on April 20 last year, when an moored off the coast of Louisiana exploded.

Eleven men died and several others were injured as fire ripped through the platform, which two days later sank 5,000 feet (1,500 meters) to the bottom of the , causing BP's Macondo well to rupture and start spewing oil into the sea.

BP struggled to cap the ruptured well, which over the course of some three months spewed some 4.9 million barrels of crude into the Gulf of Mexico.

The oil sullied beaches just as the tourist season got under way, coated and killed wildlife and sounded the death knell for the 2010 fishing, shrimping and oyster seasons which are mainstays of the local economy.

"There is still oil being cleaned up," Allen said in an interview with AFP.

"It's much less oil than we had, and it's mostly restricted to marsh areas."

But that, Allen said, poses its own problems, with birds nesting now in the still-tainted roseau cane and grasses off the US southeastern coast.

According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, more than 1,050 miles (1,700 kilometers) of marshland and beaches were oiled in the Gulf oil disaster, and more than 6,000 birds were found dead.

Allen said some 2,000 workers are still working at cleaning up the marshlands at Passe a Loutre, off the coast of Louisiana, and Barataria Bay, a prime shrimping ground that sits at the point where Lafourche bayou opens into the Gulf of Mexico near the Louisiana town of Galliano.

Pass a Loutre is the shrinking patch of wetlands where crude from the BP spill first hit land in May last year.

The US government declared a moratorium on deepwater drilling after the accident and, months later, the Department of the Interior unveiled tough new rules before companies can be granted a drilling permit.

That move, Allen said, would make for safer offshore drilling but was not a guarantee that there would never be another major oil disaster.

"Equipment that can contain oil and cap a well, those are in place now and they are a condition for exploration in the Gulf of Mexico," he said.

"The equipment is in the region and would have to be transported to the site and installed. There would be a time period of 10-12 days, depending where the well is," said Allen.

"It's certainly an improvement over what we had -- which was no containment system," he added. "But we're never going to be able to prevent an event."

Allen retired from the Coast Guard last June but stayed on to lead the government's response to the Gulf spill until the BP well was finally sealed and declared "dead" in September.

"It was pretty clear that this thing would not be done quickly," he said, warning the United States not to repeat key mistakes made after the previous biggest US offshore oil accident, when the Exxon Valdez ran aground off the coast of Alaska in 1989, spilling some 11 million gallons of oil into the sea.

After the Exxon Valdez disaster, "there was a huge amount of research and development into spill response," Allen said, including research into dispersants and in situ burning.

But within two or three years, he said, the research stopped.

"While we focused on a tanker accident after Exxon Valdez and how to avoid that in the future, the oil industry moved off and went deep," Allen said.

"We should not let that happen again," he said.

"We should focus on research and development, innovation and improvements in technology all the time as the industry changes."

Explore further: BP removes cap from plugged well in Gulf of Mexico

Related Stories

BP removes cap from plugged well in Gulf of Mexico

September 2, 2010

BP on Thursday removed a massive cap which had stemmed the flow of oil from its ruptured well deep in the Gulf of Mexico in a key step toward killing the well once and for all, officials said.

US not ready for Arctic oil drilling, say officials

February 7, 2011

The United States is ill-equipped to deal with a major oil catastrophe in Alaska, the Coast Guard admiral who led the US response to the massive Gulf of Mexico oil spill and others have warned.

BP's broken well in Gulf of Mexico is 'dead'

September 20, 2010

US officials have finally declared BP's broken well in the Gulf of Mexico "dead", five months after a deadly oil rig explosion set off one of the costliest and largest environmental disasters ever.

BP sucking up half of oil leaking from Gulf well

June 7, 2010

Engineers hoped Monday to make more headway in their bid to contain a massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico after energy giant BP announced it was now capturing about half of the oil gushing from its ruptured well.

Saw stuck in ruptured Gulf oil pipe: official

June 2, 2010

BP's latest effort to stem the oil spewing from a ruptured well a mile (1.6 kilometers) deep in the Gulf of Mexico hit a setback when a saw snagged while cutting a riser pipe, officials said Wednesday.

Recommended for you

Maximizing the environmental benefits of autonomous vehicles

February 15, 2018

The added weight, electricity demand and aerodynamic drag of the sensors and computers used in autonomous vehicles are significant contributors to their lifetime energy use and greenhouse gas emissions, according to a new ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.