Revolution #231, May 1, 2011

One Year Anniversary of the Gulf of Mexico Oil Disaster


On April 20, 2010, the Deepwater Horizon oil rig owned by BP exploded in the Gulf of Mexico. On April 22, the Deepwater Horizon sank. The accident killed 11 workers, and eventually spewed over 200 million gallons of oil and 225,000 tons of methane into the surrounding water. To this poisonous brew, nearly two million gallons of toxic chemical dispersants were added to break up the oil and hide it from the surface. As the oil gushed for three months, BP and the government continually downplayed, lied about, and suppressed real scientific investigation of the spill rate and every other aspect of the disaster from day one.

The ecosystem of the Gulf was already very damaged and fragile from many years of abuse before the spill hit—including many smaller oil spills, a massive seasonal dead zone, many channels dug in the Mississippi delta to facilitate oil drilling and transport, etc. Now, one year after the blowout, biologists are still only beginning to understand the full impact of the disasters on the Gulf. Many scientists note that after the massive spill from the Exxon Valdez oil tanker in Alaska in 1989, the local herring population collapsed three years later, after it initially seemed that the fish had survived the disaster. In the Gulf of Mexico disaster, the Deepwater Horizon blowout happened when many species of marine life were spawning. Oceanographer Edward Chesney of the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium told Scientific American magazine (April 20, 2011), "We undoubtedly lost a lot of those fish and egg larvae—they can't move and are highly vulnerable to oil toxicity." Toxins from the oil can pass up the food chain—scientists have found evidence of oil in plankton, tiny animals that are at the base of the food web. Entire generations of young marine life may be lost—and this can have impact up the food web, as species that feed on the ones that are lost are hit themselves.

And there are many impacts on human health. The five million barrels of oil that gushed into the Gulf of Mexico were toxic—and the use of chemical dispersants on the surface and in the deep sea magnified that toxicity. The Scientific American article notes "The oil itself sports an array of so-called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs)—benzene, toluene and the like that are known to cause cancer. NOAA [National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration] testing found more than 800 oil-related compounds in the water during the spill."

The impact of the oil gusher devastated the communities of people who depended on the waters of the Gulf coast for their livelihood from fishing and in other ways. There have been determined efforts by scientists, activists, and people in impacted communities to expose the causes and to fight the many dimensions of immediate and long-term damage from the oil disaster. But powerful voices of the system moved months ago to attempt to suppress all that and declare the spill and its effects "over." They declared it was fine to eat seafood from the Gulf, fine for people to go back to the beaches and into the water—even when globules of oil were still coming in with the tide and the ocean bottom in places had been turned into a dead zone. (Go online to for a report from the Defend Science website on recent findings by scientists: "Thick Layer of Oil From the BP Oil Spill Deposited on the Gulf Sea Floor: Government Tries to Evade and Ignore Crucial Scientific Findings—Restarts Deep-Sea Drilling in the Gulf.")

One sharp expression of the battle over the impact of the disaster is the contention over the estimates of the animal death toll from the spill. In a study released in mid-April, the Center for Biological Diversity said that official government figures of animal deaths drastically underestimate the real toll. The Center estimated by using scientific multipliers that five times as many sea turtles, 10 times as many birds and 200 times more marine mammals were injured or died than official estimates. The Center argues that the true death toll of the spill on wildlife is "more than 82,000 birds; about 6,000 sea turtles; nearly 26,000 marine mammals, including dolphins; and an unknown, but no doubt staggering number of fish and invertebrates may have been harmed by the spill and its aftermath."

Government Green Light for New Deep-Water Drilling

The 2010 Gulf oil disaster was the largest offshore oil spill in U.S. history, and one of the largest ever on the planet. The disaster has been devastating to the people and the environment of the Gulf—and we do not even know its full impact yet. Has this forced the government, the oil corporations, and the system as a whole to stop the kind of drilling that led to the BP blowout? No, just the opposite. High-level commissions have issued reports, Obama has promised that things will change, and government bureaucracy has made some minor reorganizations in how permits for deep-water drilling are granted. But in reality, it is truly outrageous how little actual change there has been in the way the kind of drilling that led to the Gulf disaster is approved and carried out and the kind of safety measures available in the case of an accident.

Obama has already lifted the temporary ban on deep sea drilling, which had been put in place in the midst of the spill. Permits are being issued. The first permit after the lifting of the ban went to Noble Energy Inc. for work on a deep-water well off the coast of Louisiana. BP is not the operator, but it has a 46 percent stake in the well. And BP and others are in negotiations with the Department of the Interior to restart deep-water drilling.

Mega-disasters, Global Emergency, and Capitalism

The past year has seen two environmental "mega-disasters," the Gulf of Mexico oil spill and the Fukushima nuclear reactor disaster in Japan. Beyond those catastrophic events, there continues to be an on-going worldwide environmental emergency, including the increasing destruction of ecosystems around the world and global climate change. According to the World Health Organization, global warming already kills 150,000 people every year from worsening droughts, storms, flooding, heat waves and parasitic disease. From 2000-2008, greenhouse emissions (gases like carbon dioxide and methane that cause global warming) rose by 29 percent, and the rate of their build-up has been increasing. The world's governments have proven themselves utterly incapable of responding to this emergency in even minimal ways.

It is not simply a question of developing new technologies to deal with the environmental problems. Many such new technologies already exist, and there is tremendous accumulated knowledge from scientists and others about how to solve many existing environmental problems. And it is not simply a matter of changing bad policies. The root of the problem lies much deeper in the very nature of the capitalist system.

Under this system, capitalists, or blocs of capital, privately own the means of production—the machinery, land, technology, and so forth. These capitalists sometimes cooperate, but at bottom they confront one another as competitors who are compelled to expand their profits. When BP got into trouble in the Gulf, rival oil corporations were, according to the New York Times (June 8, 2010), "licking their chops" at the prospect of devouring BP. This is not fundamentally because these corporations are greedy and cutthroat—they are, but under the "rules" of the system, the capitalists are compelled to seize on any advantage and undercut their competition—otherwise, their competition may undercut them and drive them under.

This basic underlying dynamic is what drives the actions of individual capitalists. It is the reason why capitalism, as a system, cannot deal with the environment in a sustainable and rational way, even if an individual capitalist or a group of capitalists somehow actually wanted to. At the heart of capitalism is the reality that the measure and motivation of all production is profit. As Raymond Lotta points out, "To capital, nature is either something to be seized and plundered, or a gift to be taken for granted, exploited and poured into profit-based commodity production." Capitalists are not just unwilling but fundamentally unable to cope with the effects of their own production, such as pollution. They cannot plan for future generations. (For a deeper discussion, see the article "Why Capitalism Cannot Solve the Environmental Crisis," which is part of the special Revolution #199 on the environmental emergency, online at

What all this poses is the need for very radical solutions. What is urgently required is the uprooting and revolutionizing of the foundations of how society is organized and how production is carried out on a global scale—nothing less will even begin to deal with what we are facing. This future is possible. The Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America (Draft Proposal) from the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, sets out a framework for a vibrant, emancipatory socialism that would take the protection of the environment as a crucial part of the foundation of society. We urge everyone to check out this Constitution at

Everyone who is serious about stopping the environmental catastrophe needs to deeply confront the reality of today's nightmarish world—and work to bring this radically new society into being.

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