The Far-Reaching Effects of BP’s Gulf Oil Spill

August 25, 2010

As the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico appears to have finally been stopped, there will be much discussion in the future about what damage the oil has done, or will do, to the environment in the region, as well as to what extent the local economies have been, and will be, negatively affected.

It is important, in addition to these vital concerns, to evaluate what other effects America’s ‘greatest environmental disaster’ will have in the future.

Many observers feel that BP’s Gulf oil spill disrupted and delayed possible negotiations on climate and energy legislation with in the U.S. Congress.

In the Spring of 2010, prior to the disaster, there were proposals for the Senate to re-introduce major climate and energy legislation, which has been on the agenda since the presidential elections in 2008.

An energy bill passed in the House of Representatives in 2009, and the Senate reportedly had support for new nuclear power regulations, as well as guidelines for the expansion of offshore oil drilling.

However, after the realization that the Gulf oil spill was enormous and ongoing, politicians decided that the offshore drilling details in the proposal were politically-unpopular at the time, and discussion of the energy bill stopped in both houses.

With discussions delayed for the past couple months and the mid-term elections approaching in November, re-animation of the energy bill in the near future seems unlikely.

One of the effects of energy legislation delay is that federal funds will not be allocated in the near future for research on new renewable energy technology, carbon capture, and improvements in nuclear power.  In addition, President Obama made these items priorities in the past, the lack of their coming to fruition could be a major campaigning point for the Republicans in the upcoming elections.

In the past, BP actively disseminated an image of corporate environmental responsibility – an image which has evaporated in the wake of the Gulf oil spill’s negative environmental effects.

Former BP CEO Lord John Browne coined the phrase, ‘Beyond Petroleum’, and led BP in encouraging international discussion of potential climate change, introducing their own internal carbon emissions trading system, making investments in renewable technologies such as solar power, and funding bio-fuels research.

With BP’s environmentally-responsible corporate image eroding, public discourse about corporate responsibility in many areas, in addition to the environment, is sure to be widespread.

One of the largest effects of the spill is to once again point out the weaknesses of the United States’, as well as the whole world’s, current energy infrastructure.

Although oil supply was never disrupted by the Deepwater Horizon incident, it is important to note that most people accept the fact that the current energy industry inherently has the potential for large accidents.  Discussion will eventually increase to try to change our energy structure to eliminate, or effectively minimize, these ‘inherent risks’.

Although we have much to learn about alternative, renewable energies, the BP Gulf oil spill is a reminder that these other energies to have positives in addition to their perceived smaller amount of risk, including less reliance on oil, lower CO2 gas emissions & pollution, and more internal control over our energy sources.

In the end, the Gulf of Mexico oil spill highlights all of these issues, and uncomfortably reminds us that as a nation we are still reluctant to move beyond fossil fuels for our increasing energy demands.