2 Years After the BP Spill: 2 Big Unanswered Questions + A Prior Accident Hidden From Congress

Today is the second anniversary of the BP oil spill. You remember that event, right, the largest oil spill in US history? That may sound like snark, but it's not—in all fairness the BP oil spill and its consequences have mostly fallen from the headlines in the past year, with some notable exceptions, even though the consequences (environmental, economic and social) are still playing out.

Let's take a quick look back at what's still going on with the BP oil spill.

Keep in mind that this all takes place against the backdrop of President Obama opening up nearly 60,000 square miles of the Gulf of Mexico to more oil drilling.

READ MORE: TreeHugger's Earth Day coverage

The Gulf is Recovering, With Some Dramatic Exceptions & Unanswered Questions

Just-released research coming out the University of South Carolina, no doubt timed to coincide with the anniversary, paints a pretty rosy picture of the ecological recovery of the Gulf. James Morris, the biologist leading the research, is downright enthusiastic about how well the recovery is going.

Morris says,

The fisheries have come back like gangbusters... The marshes that I saw actually looked very good, and I was taken to the worst by officials who wanted to impress us that the damage was really significant, that you could still find oil in the mashes. You can still find oil in the marshes, but the greatest damage to the place where they took us was from the trampling by the reporters, scientists and agency people tromping around out there looking for damage. (Science Daily)

But, as recent reporting by Al Jazeera highlights, not everyone shares that enthusiasm.

Dr Jim Cowan, from Louisiana State University's Dept of Oceanography and Coastal Sciences, told Al Jazeera that fishermen are finding shocking numbers of fish with sores and lesions, as well as other deformed sea life. In Al Jazeera's words, "Horribly mutated shrimp, fish with oozing sores, underdeveloped blue crabs lacking claws, eyeless crabs and shrimp."

Commercial fisher Tracy Kuhns,

At the height of the last white shrimp season, in September, one of our friends caught 400 pounds of [eyeless shrimp]. Some shrimpers are catching these out in the open Gulf. They are also catching them in Alabama and Mississippi. We are also finding eyeless crabs, crabs with their shells soft instead of hard, full grown crabs that are one-fifth their normal size, clawless crabs, and crabs with shells that don't have their normal spikes.

Kuhns suspects the BP spill is behind the deformed animals, and the rest of the article attempts to get to the bottom of it, painting a pretty damning picture, if one based as much on anecdote and scientific research.

It's not just investigative reporters though that suspect the BP spill in creating some long lasting damage.

A few weeks ago, NRDC highlighted that dolphins are dying at "unprecedented" rates in the Gulf.

Over the last two years, an unusually high number of bottlenose dolphins have beached along the shore of Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, and western Florida, raising enormous concern—and for good reason. Even in a species known to experience mass mortalities—from brevetoxin and disease—the current die-off is unprecedented in its duration and magnitude.

This is all of course on top of animals killed while the oil was still gushing into the Gulf.

BP Has Yet To Pay Civil Damages

Though BP has reached a settlement with Gulf Coast residents for civil damages, estimating that it will eventually have to pay out $7.8 billion, we still don't know exactly what's going to happen.

That BP settled at all is still relatively recent news, and just yesterday it emerged that there's an outline of how that money will be divvied up. That said, there are still lots of grey areas here. All the New York Times reports on the matter is the original estimate still stands, with $600 million of it being taken up with lawyers fees, for the hundreds of attorneys involved, to be added on top of what victims of the spill receive.

As for civil damages collected by the US government and the states affected by the spill, this all would be on top of this $7.8 billion. These could run from $4.5 billion to $17.63 billion, for violations of the Oil Pollution Act and Clean Water Act.

BP Hid a Similar Accident Two Years Earlier

Another piece of reporting no doubt timed to coincide with the anniversary reveals a disturbing picture of a nearly identical accident on a BP oil rig, that happened two years before the Gulf oil spill and which BP allegedly concealed from US regulators and from Congress.

Check out this video reporting from Greg Palast, for EcoWatch.org (there's a text version at that link as well):

Tags: BP | Earth Day | Gulf Oil Spill | Oil | Oil Spill