Then and Now: Satellite Monitoring to Protect the Future

A guest opinion post today by Amy Scoville-Weaver.

As an appetizer, check out this weekend’s article in Wired on why we need routine satellite monitoring in the Gulf (yes, we’re in it…) – John

The one-year anniversary of the disastrous BP oil spill is upon us. Let’s reflect on what has been learned and what has been neglected in the past year.

April 20, 2010:

  • The explosion on the Deep Horizon rig killed eleven workers.
  • Over 205.8 million gallons of oil was spilled and 966 miles of shoreline affected.
  • A total cost of $40 billion to the UK-based company which has set up a $20 billion compensation fund to victims of the spill
  • The extent of the total environmental impact is debated, which includes worries concerning the long-term impact related to the dispersant of 800,000 gallons of chemicals meant to break up the oil

April 20, 2011:

While the environmental and economic consequences of off-shore drilling were certainly called into question following the April 20th spill, this has not meant a long-term moratorium on the business –

President Obama’s current energy plan gives an essential green-light for domestic oil and gas drilling. His recent George Washington speech outlined his new energy agenda, which is based on expediting permits for oil companies. First in line to grab at this chance, BP is currently seeking permission to resume its drilling operations in the Gulf of Mexico. Obama also ended a long-standing moratorium on drilling along the East coast, opening over 167 million acres of ocean. The purpose of this agenda is to decrease America’s reliance on foreign oil – however, it also escalates the potential for future environmental and economic disasters. And as gasoline prices increase and energy concerns mount with the heightened Middle-East conflict, off-shore and deep-sea drilling will likely help determine our energy future. While strict regulations are being stressed as a main factor in granting a company permission to drill, there is also a Congressional push to grant permits fast, which could further impact environmental and safety policies.

In short, off-shore oil drilling has perhaps never been as popular as it is only one year after the greatest environmental disaster to affect the nation.

The need for an open and transparent satellite monitoring system to detect future oil pollution has therefore never been more critical.

The effectiveness of satellite imagery in offering a new perspective to the impact of the spill was well-documented throughout media coverage. Seen from above, the true extent of the oil spill was dramatically exposed. These monitoring systems have been valuable in discovering undetected oil spills and giving a clear idea to their extent and location. Sky Truth has been documenting the success of satellites in monitoring leaks and the extent of their damage, which often stand contradictory to official reports.

The true costs of pollution related to energy extraction will only increase as America embraces off-shore drilling and natural gas development. Even if the BP spill is left aside, the National Resource Council estimates that almost a billion gallons of oil are spilled into the world’s oceans and waterways per year. By demanding a system designed to monitor these sources of pollution, we are taking a stand in protecting not only the environment, but the health and economic well-being of future generations.

The ability to use an available and established technical system that systemically pinpoints sources of pollution, and responds to small leaks and potentially disastrous emergencies, must not be neglected. If we have learned anything from the tragedy that was, and continues to be, the BP oil spill, it should be a growing awareness of the need for effective monitoring to ensure that regulations are complied with. And the necessity in discovering and exposing those who do not follow them.

If the Administration is serious about securing America’s energy potential, it also needs to be serious about securing the nation’s environmental and economic future. And while safety regulations can be imposed again and again, the BP spill taught us that it only takes a few cost-cutting measures (and lack of government oversight) to result in a catastrophe. By federally funding a satellite monitoring system designed to detect, track and measure pollution, the government would show its commitment to America’s citizens and not just to the interests of big oil companies. And that is a future guaranteed to benefit everyone.

April 20, 2012:

Government federally funds a monitoring program designed to protect our rights to a healthy economy, environment and energy future.