Opinion

Oil spill: Don't endanger Washington and Puget Sound

For almost two months, the Gulf Oil Spill has been in the national news and each day that British Petroleum (BP) fails to plug the leak, the news gets worse. What is really shocking is that BP in 2009 suggested that an accident leading to a giant crude oil spill was “unlikely, or virtually impossible.” They further argued that “due to the distance to shore (48 miles) and the response capabilities that would be implemented, no significant impacts are expected.”

Come on, get real. Because they had no “contingency plan” that would work, the leak has now doubled or tripled the amount of the Exxon Valdez spill making it the greatest environmental disaster in our history.

The $64,000 question: What caused the explosion? On “60 Minutes,” that question was answered by Mike Williams (one of the last survivors to get off the rig). At that depth (5,000 feet below the surface), the oil and gas is under tremendous pressure. There was trouble from the start as the first well had to be abandoned when they got stuck in the drilling. There were two problems with the blowout preventer (BOP):

1. During a test, one of the crewmen damaged the annular (a rubber gasket at the top of the BOP). According to Williams, when chunks of rubber showed up in the drilling fluid (called mud), a supervisor said “it was no big deal” but, in fact, it was a very big deal.

2. One of the control panels attached to the BOP lost some of its functions weeks before. Instead of fixing the problem, BP made the (ill-advised) decision to keep on drilling. As a result, a surge of explosive gas came flying up the well from three miles down. The rig’s diesel engines (which powers it electrical generators) sucked up the gas and began to run wild followed by a series of explosions that Williams said “took your breath away and shook your body to the core.” The BOP, that was suppose to protect them, failed. To make matter worse, emergency procedures were not followed as eight survivors were left on the rig with no lifeboats. Williams had to jump ten stories into the sea and then swim for his life to survive.

If that disaster was not bad enough, in 2005, BP was found “willfully negligent” in a Texas refinery explosion that killed 15 workers; as a result, they were fined $108 million, the largest in our history. According to Ken Abbot (who worked for BP), they have another platform in the gulf called “Atlantis” which may be even a greater threat. For that site, 89 percent of the drawings have not been inspected and approved by BP engineers and 95 percent of the underwater welding plans were never approved. That is another disaster waiting to happen.

In addition, the Obama administration gave Shell permission to do exploratory drilling in Alaska’s Chukchi and Beaufort seas, despite evidence that it could lead to dangerous oil spills and irreversible damage to the sensitive Artic ecosystem. Now who can you trust?

Washington state (i.e. Puget Sound) is one of the most beautiful areas in the country and what we know for sure is that we cannot put our state at risk by allowing offshore drilling. One environmental disaster is one too many. We need to find other “alternative energy sources.” We already have a big enough problem dealing with oil tankers and the threat to our salmon; we do not need an additional burden of dealing with offsite oil rigs.

Web editor's note: KING5 recently showed how an oil spill the size of the one in the Gulf would look if it happened in Puget Sound. Check out the link or watch the video embedded above.

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