Deja vu all over again – 31 years later

This blog was written by Jennifer Rennicks, former Senior Director of Policy & Communications at the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.

Guest Blog | May 30, 2010 | Energy Policy, Offshore Drilling

“Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it.” – Edmund Burke (1729-1797), statesmen, writer and philosopher

In the past month, commentators and especially offshore-drilling proponents have used the word ‘unprecedented’ when trying to do damage control for the still-unfolding tragedy in the wake of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster. How soon we forget that just 31 years ago, in my living memory, we watched as an exploratory well in the Gulf of Mexico exploded and gushed millions of gallons of oil into the sea for months on end until two relief wells could be drilled and the original, leaking well capped.

The blowout of the Ixtoc well was 1979, the summer my brother was born and just a few years after the OPEC oil embargo that should have been a wake-up call to our nation’s fossil fuel addiction.  And while few of us may have heard about the spills and leaks that occurred in the Gulf of Mexico in the intervening 31 years, it was most definitely not an unparalleled period of drilling and worker safety.  In fact, since since 2001, there have been 69 offshore deaths, 1,349 injuries and 858 fires in the Gulf of Mexico along with a number of smaller but still notable spills in the region.

Incredulously, the parallels from 1979 don’t stop with the gushing wells in the Gulf of Mexico.  It truly was deja vu all over again as I watched archived news footage on Rachel Maddow’s show that confirmed our nation experienced a similar ‘oily double jeopardy’ in June 1979 from a gushing well in the Gulf and a trans-Atlantic pipeline leak.


Back in 2010, we just experienced a ‘disruption’ in the Trans-Alaskan pipeline which resulted in a spill of more than 5,000 barrels, making it the third largest spill in the 800 mile pipeline’s history.   Two oil-producing regions, 2 ‘spills’ and 1 week are not safety records that inspire confidence – certainly not to a resident of a coastal state that may be opened to offshore drilling if President Obama doesn’t permanently extend the offshore drilling ban he set in place last Thursday.

Our insatiable appetite for fossil fuels enabled us to conveniently ‘forget’ our drilling and spilling history from 1979.  I wonder if this time we will learn our  lesson  from history – freeing our nation from the bonds of a fossil-fueled economy and ourselves from the necessity of repeating the same mistake yet again.

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