The Gulf of Mexico will soon be open for the taking. Secretary Ryan Zinke announced on Tuesday that the Interior Department is proposing the largest oil and gas lease sale in U.S. history. In March 2018, nearly 77 million acres of federal waters in the Gulf of Mexico will go up for lease—an area that includes all available unleased sections on the Gulf’s Outer Continental Shelf.
Yeah, there. The Gulf where the BP-owned Deepwater Horizon oil rig spilled 4 million barrels of oil fewer than 10 years ago. Y’know, the same place where the rig exploded, ultimately killing 11 workers. That event might feel like forever ago, but it sure wasn’t the last.
Just two weeks ago, on Oct. 11, nearly 5,000 feet deep on the ocean floor, an oil pipeline spilled up to 16,000 barrels of oil into the sea—equivalent to 672,000 gallons. Private oil and gas operator LLOG Exploration Offshore, LLC. owns the infrastructure, which sits 40 miles southeast of Venice, Louisiana—not far from where the 2010 spill happened.
The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement is now investigating the incident, but no shoreline impacts have been reported yet. The U.S. Coast Guard doesn’t believe it can recover any oil from the ocean due to how deep the spill occurred and the pressure at which the oil was released.
The Gulf sure runs deep, and this is where oil can accumulate when a spill like this occurs. The BP oil spill was much larger than the one two weeks ago, and a lot of its oil ended up down there, too. Since the 2010 spill, researching what impacts hide in the dark has been tough, as Public Radio International reported earlier this year.
Researchers won’t know how the BP oil spill affected some marine species like sperm whales, dolphins, and turtles for another few decades, but an article published Oct. 12 in the journal Environmental Toxicology found that small amounts of oil made birds sick.
Researchers also know that the historic spill devastated the region’s commercial fishing industry, and Vietnamese immigrant families rely heavily on it: Though just 0.3 of the population in Louisiana, they make up more than 5 percent of the state’s fishing industry employees, per the U.S. Census Bureau. Vietnam War refugees turned to this industry due to occupation’s role in their home country.
When disasters like the BP oil spill happen, people and wildlife bear the burdens. Now, the Trump administration is trying to give the oil industry even more access to offshore oil and gas reserves. This, of course, is nothing new: Former President Barack Obama published an offshore drilling plan in November 2016 that included the region, though he banned such activity in the Arctic, a measure which President Donald Trump is already working to reverse.
The bureau estimates that up to a billion barrels of oil and up to 4 trillion cubic feet of natural gas could be recovered from the new leases, which include an area about the size of New Mexico.
Athan Manuel, director of the Sierra Club’s Lands Protection Program, told The Washington Post that the gulf has become “a sacrifice zone for the oil and gas industry.”