The Deepwater Horizon oil spill shook the Gulf Coast of Mexico in 2010, but the reverberations are still being felt nearly a decade later.
BP, the company responsible for the whole mess, is still paying out an ever-growing mountain of settlements to individuals and businesses that suffered economic losses from the disaster. In 2018, the company is expecting payouts to amount to $3 billion, according to a release Tuesday. BP’s Court Supervised Settlement Program, which was overseeing this process (and doesn’t include local and state governments), has already paid more than $11 billion toward nearly 200,000 claims—and that doesn’t include the more than 200,000 others filed.
The Guardian reports that BP has spent more than $65 billion on the oil spill. That sum includes settlements reached with individuals, businesses, local governments, state governments, as well as criminal fines and fees BP has had to pay to federal agencies and the hundreds of lawyers working on cases related to the incident.
Associate Law Professor at Loyola University Blaine LeCesne, who’s followed the litigation closely, told Earther that “$60 billion catches even BP’s attention.”
“The question is are they willing to take the same cost-saving risk that precipitated this disaster in the future?” he said.
The fact that BP is still dealing with the economic burden of the oil spill speaks volumes to how severe its impacts were. It’s been deemed the worst environmental disaster of our time. After all, it killed 11 crew members on board the offshore rig. None of their bodies were recovered for their families to properly mourn. As more than 4 million barrels of oil poured into the Gulf of Mexico, birds were exposed, and more than one million died. That doesn’t even include the other marine species that suffered. And then came the oil dispersant, which has been linked to health issues (like wheezing and burning eyes) among the 30,000 recovery workers who helped clean up BP’s mess.
Today, according to BP’s website, the company remains the “No. 1 investor in the deepwater Gulf of Mexico.” So the oil spill hasn’t scared it too much. And it hasn’t instilled much concern among the current administration.
President Donald Trump is working closely with the Department of Interior to bring back a surge offshore drilling. The new offshore leasing plan includes 12 sales in the Gulf of Mexico, along with the Arctic, Atlantic, and Pacific regions. And the president went ahead and decided to kill safety rules created after the 2010 spill—rules that could have prevented the disaster had they existed then. There goes that.
“You would think an environmental disaster on that scale with the amount of pure human suffering involved would deter future reckless behavior in the unending quest to drill for more oil,” LeCesne said. “That hasn’t happened, in my view, and I’m not sure that $60 billion is enough of a deterrent for a company the size of BP.”
The communities and individuals who depend on U.S. waters as a source of income—or who will be responsible for cleaning up future spills—should be wary of what’s to come if what LeCesne says is true. They will have to deal with an annoying legal process that can stretch out as far as eight years, as BP has shown us. If future companies do as BP did, they’ll do whatever they can to settle up for as little money as possible—like asking courts to re-evaluate how claims are finalized.
If BP hadn’t challenged (and succeeded) its own legal settlements in 2014, LeCesne speculates its $60 billion would be more along the lines of $80 billion. And he expects this process to similarly drag out in the case of future offshore drilling accidents.
No one wants that to happen—not the oil companies who have to deal with cleaning it up, not the people who live near these waters, and certainly not the workers who spend their days in the Gulf. But not wanting and preventing are two different things.