Rachel's right. It looks like BP is just making it up as they go along with the response to this disaster in the Gulf. Turns out BP has made billions in profit and then spent zero dollars for researching how to drill safely and spill clean up. They outsourced their spill clean up research to a company called Marine Spill Response Corp and as Rachel and this USA article noted, they have no money in their budget for research.
But the basic equipment and tactics being used: boom, dispersants, burns and use of skimmer boats to pick up the oil haven't changed much in the two decades since the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska ratcheted up calls in Congress for greater defenses against the ravages of oil spills, spill experts and environmentalists say.
That lack of attention, research and investment by government and industry may seriously handicap efforts to clean up a spill that now threatens Gulf of Mexico shores and waters from Louisiana to Florida given that, in most spills, far less than half of the spilled oil is ever recovered.
"We failed at preventing the spill. Now, we're failing in the response simply because we'd never gotten ready," says Richard Charter, oil spill expert for conservation group Defenders of Wildlife. "Nobody has invested in these technologies."
Federal funding for oil spill research was cut in half between 1993 and 2008, falling to just $7.7 million in fiscal year 2008, data from the Congressional Research Service show. Federal legislation introduced last year to bolster oil spill research has yet to pass. And oil companies have invested "little to no" money on spill response technologies, concentrating instead on oil exploration and spill prevention, says Robert Peterson, a consultant to the oil and gas industry at Charles River Associates.
Last year, Douglas Helton of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration testified at a congressional hearing that oil spill research in the private and public sectors had declined, in part, because larger spills had become less frequent.
But Helton also said research goals envisioned after the Exxon Valdez spill had not been achieved.
"We're in the dark ages in terms of the technology to prevent a disaster ... and ways to clean it up," says Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Calif., who co-sponsored 2009 legislation to coordinate federal research of oil spills and to provide grants to researchers to improve technologies.
"We need science and research to tell us how to do it better," Woolsey says.
British energy giant BP, which owns the well and has said it'll pay for the cleanup, doesn't "specifically research" oil spill response technologies itself, says spokesman Robert Wine. Instead, it supports industry resources, including organizations set up to respond to oil spills, such as Virginia-based Marine Spill Response.
Marine Spill, funded by a non-profit that's funded by oil, shipping and other companies, is the largest oil spill response organization nationwide, says spokeswoman Judith Roos.
The spill responders operate like fire departments, she says, stationing equipment in areas where oil spills are likely and rushing to scenes as needed.
But while Marine Spill stations oil spill equipment at 78 locations and has an annual budget of about $80 million, it has no budget for research, Roos says. Most of its equipment was bought more than 10 years ago, although its fleet includes some newer, 47-foot fast-response vessels, Roos says. Read on...
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