Oil industry has more than 30 accidents a week in and off the coast of Louisiana; data analysis

A portion of the iWitness graphic showing the 94 oil industry accidents of the past three week. (Photo Credit: Louisiana Bucket Brigade, used with permission)

A coalition of groups calling for a moratorium on drilling in the Gulf of Mexico released research today after reviewing the frequency of accidents in the oil industry – at least those that get reported. By law, the oil industry is required by law to report accidents, and the public can also notify the National Response Center if they see a spill or witness an accident. FSRN’s Nell Abram has more.

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Nell Abram: Anne Rolfes is the founding Director of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade. She joins us along to talk about what they found when they looked at reports submitted during a three week stint beginning in mid-September. Anne, thanks for joining us.

Anne Rolfes: Thanks for having me.

NA: You reviewed reports spanning just three weeks from – September 15 to October 6. What did you find? How many industry accidents were reported?

AR: Well, in the three week period we found that there were 94 accidents attributed to the industry. Some of those were reports from the oil industry, some were things that regular people observed and called in. But either way you slice it, that’s over 30 accidents a week.

NA: And that’s just Louisiana?

AR: These are accidents only off the coast of Louisiana and then to some degree, onshore. You know, we’re focusing on our state, of course if you widen the scope and look along Gulf Coast, it would be an even higher number.

NA: So, these numbers are anecdotal of a few weeks – how many accidents have been reported so far this year?

AR: To this point in the year there are over 1,500 accidents by the oil industry in our state. And last year, just as an example, there were 2,300. And so this is a problem that we know has gone on from year to year, where there are actually thousands of accidents every single year. And in Louisiana, and along the gulf region, it’s as if we’re used to this and we consider it business as usual. And one of the reasons that we have released this research is we want to wake people up and point out ‘hello, every week there are over 30 accidents’ and it’s long past time to end this drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.’

NA: You chose to report what you found in an infographic. What’s the big picture?

AR: We put our research onto a map because we felt that was the best way for people to understand it. And so our map shows simply the number of accidents, which was 94. We also have the temperature and we show that over the last three weeks, the temperature was three degrees higher than normal, than has been the average, let’s say. And then we also show on our map the true coastline of Louisiana. People like meteorologists and certainly the oil industry use a really a typical boot that we’re used to thinking of in regard to our state, but in fact, our coast is eroding, in large part because of the oil industry activities. So, we wanted to use this presentation as a change to talk about a lot of issues, not just the accidents, but the additional impacts of the oil industry, including climate change and coastal erosion.

NA: These numbers are pretty high – do you think this is a comprehensive analysis of the scope of accidents in the oil industry?

AR: Well, we know from our experience with the BP disaster that there simply has not been enough research done on the impacts to both human life and to marine life. You know, you won’t find what you don’t want to find, and so, of course, the powers that be here don’t want to talk about the serious impacts of the oil industry. But certainly we know that the shrimping industry has been effected, that they’re not making the catches that they were used to making before. But, in particular, if you look at our map, it shows that there were 15 reports that are labeled as ‘unknown’ – that means that there was no source attributed to those reports; and 11 of those were sheened on the water – that means that maybe somebody was in a boat or maybe somebody was flying over and saw a sheen in the Gulf of Mexico. What those 11 reports means, that are ‘unknown,’ is that’s at least 11 times that the oil industry was breaking the law, because they are required by law to report it when they have a spill. If you dig deeper, 11 times in 3 weeks means every other day there’s some sheen going out on the water. It’s a problem, there’s no doubt about that it’s a problem. The industry has denied, denied, denied it, but anybody who lives here understands the tremendous toll it’s taken.

NA: The map reflects both offshore and onshore incidents. Did you find anything that surprised you?

AR: There’s, just to look at one of the accidents, there was a release of fracking waste from a tank near Baton Rouge. So, you know, you have the traditional drilling that we think about, but we also have this additional industry of fracking that is putting a toll on us that nobody is really even discussing here. That’s our point, to give some form and numbers to the problem, so that we can, you know, again, have stronger advocacy to end the drilling.

That’s Anne Rolfes, founding Director of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade. They sampled oil industry accident reports submitted to National Response Center during a three week span. They’ll be updating the research on a bi-weekly basis, you’ll find their reports at LABucketBrigade.org.

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