What a Waste of an Oil Disaster


Image credit: Oliver Bernstein, Sierra Club.

With media coverage of the country's worst oil spill fading away, recent decisions on how to handle tens of thousands of tons of boom and oily waste are going to affect people along the Gulf for years to come.

That's because BP is relying on public complacency to get away with dumping its clean-up waste in local landfills, where hazardous oily residues and chemicals, like benzene, will either slowly slither their way into nearby water streams or evaporate and affect air quality. While this places a blemish on responsibly run landfills that meet regulations, it will exacerbate several landfills that already have a history of tainting groundwater with toxins such as arsenic, mercury, and barium.BP is exploiting a loophole to perpetuate their landfill scheme. The EPA has yet to define this influx of oily waste as hazardous and federal law currently exempts certain wastes related to oil drilling. BP can merrily dump its oil disaster on local landfills that are not designed to handle such environmental catastrophes. What would it take to make this waste "hazardous"?

"It's complicated," said Sierra Club environmental justice field organizer Darryl Malek-Wiley in an interview with NPR's All Things Considered. "But what they're saying is their testing is not finding any hazardous characteristics. Also there is a loophole in the federal law dealing with oil exploration and production waste that, by law, makes it non-hazardous."

Meanwhile, Big Oil has not learned its lesson. The New York Times reports that oil executives continue to salivate over risky, lucrative, deepwater offshore drilling and exploration. These executives, "while acknowledging the risks, say safety concerns are overblown." These words were muttered before another oil rig exploded in the Gulf on September 2.

They should say those words with a straight face to the people of Kalamazoo, where 1 million gallons of tar sands oil flowed into the Kalamazoo River from a ruptured pipe owned by Alberta, Canada-based Enbridge Inc. Dirty-energy executives rely on public forgetfulness and, at the same time, frame safety concerns and regulations as "overblown."

That's why there is so much urgency to keep the 1,360-mile Keystone tar sands pipe from Canada to Texas from getting built. Imagine a spill of the same magnitude from such a pipeline. Landfills, not to mention the environment, are not designed to absorb such catastrophes.

BP's reckless handling of this oily waste is yet another reason to keep the drilling moratorium intact and shift the country toward a clean energy economy. This means stopping proposed dirty-energy projects before they start. Tell Congress to learn from the BP and Kalamazoo oil disasters and oppose new tar sands oil projects.

Read more about the Gulf Oil Spill:
Complete Coverage of the Oil Spill in the Gulf
Is the Gulf Oil Spill Really That Big of a Deal?
Slideshow: Amazing and Devastating Photos of the Gulf Oil Spill

Tags: Gulf Oil Spill | Oil Spill | Pollution