NEW ORLEANS – In a speech given to the Society for Environmental Journalists on Sept. 3, BP spokesman Geoff Morrell told the group that he was discouraged by speculative reporting that took place during and after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill regarding the impact the spill would have on the environment.
The 2010 oil spill began with the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig and resulted in a 87-day long gusher that dumped as much as an estimated 4.2 million barrels - 176 million gallons - of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.
Morrell said of all of the speculation over widespread and long-lasting environmental problems following the oil spill, few predictions have come true.
“Make no mistake, the accident was a tragedy, as it has been noted already, 11 people lost their lives, birds, fish and other wildlife perished,” he said. "But it is also clear almost four and a half years later that the apocalyptic forecast of the death of the Gulf, the coastal economy, indeed the unique way of life here did not come to pass."
Morrell pointed to figures putting recreational fishing harvest last year was at a record level and studies showing commercial seafood levels were consistent with those before the spill occurred, with the exception of oyster harvesting that he said was not connected to the oil spill.
“To the extent that oyster populations are down, data indicates it is likely due to other factors such as Louisiana’s misguided decision after the accident to divert freshwater from the Mississippi to the Gulf followed soon thereafter by historic flooding, both of which lowered salinity in the environment to harmful levels,” he said.
In addition, Morrell said reports that tar balls would be washing up years later and spread throughout the Gulf and along the Atlantic Ocean were also incorrect.
“Several experts predicted oil would enter the so-called loop current and reach Florida’s Atlantic coast within weeks. CNN reported that there would tar balls all the way up the East Coast all the way to Europe,” he said.
Morrell said such reports were indicative of how wrong some media outlets were.
“The oil did not make it Tampa, let alone to the beaches of Normandy,” he said.
Also, Morrell recalled that the local tourism sector was anticipated by some to lose $23 billion, but in each year following the oil spill records have been set for tourism in the area.
In the future Morrell called for more responsible environmental reporting.
“There needs to be less sensationalism and more balance and context to tell the whole story of the health of the Gulf,” he said.
Morrell pointed to special interest groups as promoting falsehoods about the continued negative effects of the oil spill.
“Often it is advocacy groups that are pushing a narrow one-sided perspective. Many of them cherry pick facts and promote studies that paint incomplete and inaccurate pictures and they continue to blame BP for any and all environmental problems in the Gulf here,” he said.
Morrell asked those gathered to remember that BP had taken responsibility for the oil spill and devoted $27 billion in response, cleanup and claims.
“We remain committed to restoring those natural resources that reliable data and science determine the spill injured. But we should not be accountable for damages caused by acts of others, or those conjured up by opportunistic advocacy groups,” he said.
In the end, Morrell said that while BP should be challenged to provide proof that the oil spill was not as bad as predicted, environmentalist groups should be pushed just as hard to prove that the purported damage to the Gulf was as bad as predicted.
“There are plenty of ways to ensure your stories have the full context. By all means ask tough questions of us, challenge our assertions, demand proof. We are used to such skepticism and welcome the opportunity to address it, but we ask that you apply the same level of doubt and analytical research to the claims theories and allegations of others,” he said.
Patrick Juneau, the claims administrator in the Deepwater Horizon lawsuit, was initially also scheduled to speak at the event, but canceled after BP filed a motion to dismiss him as a special master in the case based on allegations he previously had a contract with the State of Louisiana to advocate on behalf of oil spill claimants.