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The BP oil spill, five years later

Recovery efforts still underway five years after Deepwater Horizon disaster

Five years have passed since an explosion on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig owned by BP, led to the largest marine spill in U.S. history.

The spill devastated livelihoods, with $5 billion having to be paid out to settle tens of thousands of claims, according to the Deepwater Horizon Claims Center. BP says it’s paid out $13.7 billion for claims, settlements, and other payments, as well as $14 billion for response and clean-up activities. BP may also have to pay up to $13.7 billion to settle claims stemming from the Clean Water Act, which is yet to be determined by a New Orleans judge.

Following the spill, BP downplayed damage to the ecosystem, but independent investigations and the courts found negligence on the part of BP and its contractors, Transocean and Halliburton.

Reports show that the financial impact on day-to-day operations affected by the spill could exceed $1 billion. It breaks down to about $6 million a day in just clean-up costs alone. Billions of dollars that are generated from fishing and beach tourism are also at risk, including Louisiana’s oyster and shrimp operations, which generate about $962 million.

Al Jazeera’s Jonathan Martin explains that two contradictory reports have emerged five years later, one from BP itself, and the other from the National Wildlife Foundation (NWF). BP cites its “massive response” as a reason for the Gulf ecosystems “rebounding” and oiled shorelines being “largely recovered.” However, the NWF says that a BP crew was in Grand Terre, which is part of the Barrier Islands, just last month, digging up a 28,000-pound tar mat.

During Al Jazeera America's Sunday night segment "The Week Ahead," Del Walters spoke to Steven Kopits, Managing Director at Princeton Energy Advisors, and Bob Deans, Director of Strategic Engagement at the National Resource Defense Council.

“The major issue was that we had placed enormous faith in the blowout preventer, the failsafe device at the seabed, to cut off the flow of oil and gas coming forward,” says Kopits. “That failed at the end of the day, and that was a sort of ‘Pearl harbor moment’ for the industry.”

“The blowout was the result of a long chain of mishaps, misjudgments, and mistakes on the part of operators, as well as the failure of that blowout preventer,” says Deans. He adds that the same situation could still unfortunately happen again today. “The industry and the government have taken steps to reduce some of the risks of what is an inherently dangerous industrial operation at sea, but we haven’t made it safe. We can’t make it safe. We still put our workers, our waters, and our wildlife at risk when we go after oil and gas in the ocean.”

More than 8,000 types of animals died in the first few months alone after the accident, including birds, turtles, and mammals, some that were already on the endangered species list. Thousands of other animals were harmed, and only a fraction of them were successfully cleaned and released back into the wild.

Martin says that just last year, bottlenose dolphins were found dead at historic rates along the Gulf coast. The NWF cites “increasing evidence” that it was related to the spill, whereas BP insists there is “no evidence” of a link.”

Martin explains that many people say there’s a lot more that needs to be done. People are grateful that BP stepped up to the plate by settling a lot of claims and by creating a massive response and cleaning up around 800 miles of shoreline along the Gulf, but many other people feel that BP hasn’t really taken responsibility for the overall environmental damage.

“Deepwater drilling with high-pressure wells is inherently a risky operation,” says Kopits. “I think industry standards have come up a lot, and most importantly the awareness is better, but it’s all still not without risks.”

“It’s been disastrous and one of the longest-running environmental disasters in our history, and we’re still tallying the toll,” says Deans. “It is damage that scientists tell us will last for generations. “We can’t undo this damage, we can’t un-dump this oil, we can’t make this right. We have to reduce the risk as much as possible and reduce the amount of ocean we expose to this risk, and we have to reduce our reliance on oil and gas, and all of the damage and danger they bring.”

Kopits says, however, that “oil still remains our best source of transportation fuel, and natural gas is a fantastic fuel. I think it’s going to be around for a long time.”

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