Oiled Brown Pelican upon intake May 20, 2010 at Fort Jackson, Louisiana Oiled Wildlife Center. (Photo: International Bird Rescue Research Center)

Oiled Brown Pelican upon intake May 20, 2010 at Fort Jackson, Louisiana Oiled Wildlife Center. (Photo: International Bird Rescue Research Center)

This week, as we pause to remember Christ’s death on the cross and the redemption and hope of the risen Christ on Easter Sunday, we also mark another anniversary. 

On April 20, 2010 an oil explosion killed 11 people in the Gulf of Mexico and erupted into one of the worst man-made disasters our nation has ever faced.  By the time British Petroleum (BP) managed to cap the oil well located below the Deepwater Horizon rig, more than four million barrels of oil had gushed into the Gulf of Mexico. 

This week we remember our horror at the lives lost, our grief as the oil continuously poured from the broken well to devastate beaches, wetlands and wildlife. We remember the months of waiting—for the well to be capped, for the oil to disperse, for the fisheries to reopen, for damages to be figured and repaid to the suffering people, businesses and communities in the Gulf.

And now, at the one year anniversary, we look for signs of hope: 

  • The tourist industry is anticipating a “modest” increase this summer in the number of vacationers returning to Gulf Coast beaches. 
  • The oil on the surface dissipated more quickly than anticipated and the Gulf has shown greater resilience in the wake of the disaster than was expected.  However, scientists believe much of the oil remains below the surface, and long term impacts on sea life and Gulf fisheries will not be known for years.
  • Following the disaster, the Department of Interior reorganized the Minerals Management Service and divided the responsibility for issuing and monitoring offshore drilling permits and for collecting revenues, which had previously been housed in a single department. 
  • The National Commission on the BP Horizon Oil Spill finished its work and issued a final report with recommendations in January 2011. 
  • The Gulf Coast Claims Facility funded by BP has paid out nearly $4 billion in damages and compensation to more than 175,000 people and businesses, although complaints about the amount of compensation paid and the rate at which claims are processed persist among those applying for funds.

What’s missing from this list?  The United States Congress.

Congress has yet to pass any legislation to deal with the flawed system that allowed this disaster to occur or to deal with the likelihood that many years of funding will be needed to fully deal with the impacts on the Gulf ecosystem and its fisheries. Bills proposed by Gulf State legislators and others to make both small and large changes in response to the Gulf oil disaster have failed to move, victims of the gridlock that more often than not derails legislative action in Washington.

We encourage you to remind your Congressperson to support legislation to fix flaws in our oil leasing and oil spill response systems and to provide a means to fund long term restoration of the Gulf ecosystem and fisheries.

If your congregation would like to mark the anniversary of the Gulf oil disaster, either during this week or in the weeks to come, the National Council of Churches has prayers and stories from the Gulf that can help. Click here to access the NCC resource.