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The Deepwater Horizion and Silver Tip pipeline disasters: How many more?

April 20th, 2010 marks the day the worst oil spill in history occurred. This is the day the Deepwater Horizon offshore drilling rig exploded and spewed approximately 170 million gallons of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico. This is roughly fifteen times more oil than spilled during the Exxon-Valdez accident off the coast of Alaska in 1989.  The spill lasted for 87 days until BP was able to plug the leaky well and stop the spill of crude.

Over a year later, the Gulf Coast region is still devastated, with both people and animals feeling the effects. Fisherman have lost millions of dollars in Louisiana alone, and will continue to lose money over the next two years. 

These losses mostly due to nearly 90,000 square miles of water, or up to 37 percent of U.S. waters, being closed to fishing because of oil. It is also not surprising that tourism has suffered great losses in this region, and very little compensation has been paid by the parties responsible for the disaster to the businesses and fisherman who deserve it. The Gulf of Mexico is home to many endangered aquatic species, all which have been significantly harmed by this accident. Countless dolphins have been found dead or stillborn, and there are 21 species of protected marine mammals in the Gulf. All are on the endangered species list. The future of the gulf region is uncertain, but will likely be a long and painful recovery for everyone involved. Since the time since the blowout, legislation has been introduced to make regulation stricter but that does not change the fact that the the gulf coast will never be the same.

July 1st, 2011 marks a much less serious, but equally significant event. This is the day that the Silver Tip pipeline owned by Exxon-Mobil ruptured and spilled 42,000 gallons of oil into the Yellowstone river. This is another example of what can happen when there are not proper laws and regulations in place to govern such issues. The pipeline was carrying low sulfur crude oil from tar sands in Alberta, Canada to Exxon's refinery in Billings, Montana. This however, is not the issue. The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration had been questioning Exxon about the safety of the pipeline since October 2010. However, regulators never asked what was in the pipeline because current pipeline regulations do not treat tar sands any differently than conventional oil, and this is where the issue lies. The problem is tar sands are corrosive, but since there are no different regulations for tar sands, Exxon was fully compliant with the law. Regulators were not able to act even though the pipeline had been eroding and flooding the riverbed, and even corroding from the oil.

The Oil Pollution Act was established due to the Exxon-Valdez spill, which happened largely due to a lack of regulation and enforcement. The BP spill happened in large part due to regulations being overlooked and ignored, but there have been changes made since the BP spill, however, many more are awaiting Congressional votes. It seems that the most recent Exxon-Mobil spill is yet another result of a lack of laws and regulations. The question here is how many more accidents need to happen before significant progress is made to prevent them from happening altogether?

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