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One of Shell's deepwater rigs. Image: Shell

One of Shell’s deepwater rigs. Image: Shell


The Inertia

On May 12th, almost 90,000 gallons of a mixture of oil and water spilled into the Gulf of Mexico. The leak came from one of four subsea wells owned by Shell. The well in question funneled oil to Shell’s Brutus platform, an ocean rig that sits in water almost 3000 feet deep.

The Gulf of Mexico, of course, is a sensitive area when it comes to oil spills. In 2010, the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe ruined one of the most sensitive coastlines on earth in 2010 and killed 11 people. For three months, oil spewed into the Gulf unchecked. The effects were far more than just environmental–many livelihoods in the region were destroyed. Even now, six years later, they’re still being felt. The Department of the Interior recently proposed mandatory standards for all oil wells, including increased equipment checks and repairs.

Immediately after the leak was discovered earlier this month, Shell shut in every well leading to the Brutus platform. Although the damage could have been much worse–and, considering many oil companies’ penchant for under-reporting, probably was–a massive oil slick measuring two miles wide by 13 miles long still blanketed surface of the ocean about a hundred miles off the coast of Louisiana. “You sit down for dinner and you watch the news and you see another spill with tens of thousands of gallons of oil and reports that no one is hurt or the leak has stopped and you know, just from experience, that that’s probably not true,” said Colette Pichon Battle, Executive Director of the Gulf Coast Center for Law and Policy.

Now, two weeks after the fact, Shell claims that much of the oil has been cleaned up. “Skimming continued today using infrared technology with support from aerial resources,” said Shell spokesman Curtis Smith. “Joint efforts have recovered approximately 1,826 barrels, over 76,600 gallons, of oily-water mixture. On-water recovery efforts are ongoing. Shell has mobilized equipment to begin repairs.”

According to Shell, the slick won’t reach the coast, and both ships and airplanes are being used in cleanup operations. Already, the oil giant has been granted permission to resume operations in the Gulf, a decision that many aren’t happy about. “The last thing the Gulf of Mexico needs is another oil spill,” said Vicky Wyatt, a Greenpeace campaigner. “The oil and gas industry’s business-as-usual mentality devastates communities, the environment, and our climate. Make no mistake, the more fossil fuel infrastructure we have, the more spills and leaks we’ll see. It’s past time to keep it in the ground for good.”

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