Breath of Clarity

Discussion Post: Groundwater Contamination and Oil Spills

States face a major challenge concerning the environmental regulation of oil/gas extraction and transportation in the face of storms intensifying with climate change. Considering Louisiana still hasn’t finished investigating 540 oil spills after Hurricane Katrina, decreasing involvement of national organizations would be troublesome. The state is failing to collect millions of dollars in fines that are going to be crucial for remediation as storms strengthen due to climate change (Meiners 2019). After Hurricane Katrina struck, then Hurricane Rita hit and pushed already let loose oil inland. The material from the first disaster caused damage to tanks disrupted by the latter storm. The first responders calculated that, in total, the storms released the same amount of oil (10.8 million gallons) as the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill into Prince William sound on 1,300 miles of Alaskan coastline.

Using the fact 10.8 million gallons of oil was released in Alaska, we can understand the equivalent impact on wildlife the Louisiana spills would have caused. According to this week’s lecture, direct contact with the Alaskan oil slick killed at least 140 bald eagles, 302 harbor seals, 2800 sea otters, and 25000 seabirds within a few days. Not only are there job impacts due to major changes in the energy sector in terms of transitioning from fossil fuels to renewable energy, but it’s also a detrimental employment situation for states that cannot survive oil spill disasters. Subsequent to the storms in Louisiana, the tourism industry lost over 26,000 jobs and $2.4 billion in sales. Further, since Exxon paid over $3.8 billion to clean up the site and $500 million in punitive damage, there is clearly a lot at stake when the state has difficulty holding RPs accountable.

The situation makes a compliance management point about needing to actually make the Oil Pollution Act function well. The regulation entails federal and state agencies to complete assessments indicating specific damage, however, “fourteen years later, not one assessment of the damage to natural resources after the two 2005 hurricanes has been completed” (Meiners 2019) and no restoration plans have even been created. Some of the same parties responsible in Louisiana have gotten $19 million in reimbursement from the federal Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund by incurring removal costs at other locations and submitting a claim. So, the issue is Louisiana administrators are not holding willing payers to their debts even though they are guaranteed to get reimbursed by just accepting a corporation’s declaration it was an “act of God”.

With no statue of limitations in the state of Louisiana in terms of assessing oil spills, officials at the state entity Louisiana Oil Spill Coordinator’s Office (LOSCO) are still chaotically navigating a process of modeling the damage with intricate computer programming. With the delay in addressing the damage, lawyer Stephanie Morris explains the oil companies can blame the damage on the disintegrating coast instead of a spill. At that point, LOSCO is at a loss for words. It’s clear the type of regulation needed in this scenario is federal, not state.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) response team takes over in the case the 2005 spills are not assigned to LOSCO. Charlie Henry, a member of the NOAA team in Louisiana’s region, explained “some states would have given up on [the hurricane spills]– just moved them to a cold-case file like a police department would when they can’t solve it” (Meiners 2019). The fact it’s normal to not address incidents that have the potential to bring large sums of money to a group of civilians that desperately need it is a major concern. While the Gulf of Mexico is a prime location for oil leasing, the Trump administration has already drawn up a plot to open “the largest expansion of offshore oil and gas drilling in U.S. history. Many of these 76 million acres are to be offered at reduced royalty rates to encourage additional near-shore drilling in Louisiana waters” (Meiners 2019). The federal government seems to be incentivizing continuous environmental damage while under equipping any entities who may stand a chance at mitigating it.

Crucially, the public has very little visibility to track the spills in terms of knowing the quantity being addressed and each one’s remediation progress. Without checking the National Response Center database or receiving a Coast Guard press release, the public only learns of the spill at the final stage when a plan to restore the area is complete (Meiners 2019). However, the problem I outlined before is lack of investigating the Louisiana’s 540 spills. In order to cultivate substantial progress, the state needs to design communications that hold it accountable, particularly in stages the state needs to improve upon.

Since civil litigation has shown proven success in Louisiana, it’s notable as a proper type of needed regulation. For example, Murphy Oil Corporation settled in agreement to pay $330 million to 6,200 claimants, including homeowners. Paul Thibodeaux, the lawyer for Murphy Oil Corporation, considered similar suits never began because there weren’t enough plaintiffs in rural areas as many people couldn’t be located post-flood. Should we be relying on civil litigation as a main strategy if oil spills combined with natural disasters can be so brutal that not enough people remain to put up a fight?

The article suggested a non-political, proactive strategy to decrease the damage caused by the oil industry. The oil tank can be secured in place when there is word a hurricane is developing. It’s simply a matter of filling the tanks with water so that they don’t shift. It’s tough to see the lack of proactive measures taken and then see the aftermath in the overwhelming 540 case load. Withdrawing federal support from the equation is not going to aid the situation.


Meiners, Joan. 2019. “How Oil Companies Avoided Environmental Accountability After 10.8 Million Gallons Spilled” ProPublica. Accessed April 28, 2020.