The Common Good

The Truth About the BP Oil Spill

Ten months have passed since the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and by now most of the nation has shifted its focus away from the gulf to more recent and pressing topics. But for many who live in the Gulf Coast region, the tragedy of last April is one they must relive every day as they come to terms with the destructive economic and environmental ramifications of the disaster within their communities.

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Despite the relatively short attention span of our nation, the oil spill has once again become the topic of conversation in recent weeks as the presidential panel investigating the causes of the BP disaster has released its results. The National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling included in its findings a detailed account of the factors which laid the groundwork for the disaster. It also enumerated the effects of the spill and issued strong warnings that such a catastrophe could occur again if industry practices and regulations do not improve dramatically.

The report insists that the explosion of the oil well in the gulf on April 20, 2010 was not only preventable, but can be directly traced to the systemic failures and lack of oversight of the oil companies involved. In order to truly protect our environment, the commission concluded, fundamental reforms will be needed in the federal regulatory and self-regulatory processes that currently miss the mark in holding the oil companies accountable for disaster prevention. The commission also issued a call for Congress to pass new laws for preventing, containing, and responding to oil spill disasters.

The message of the commission's report was not that the oil industry should be harshly punished for the Deepwater Horizon spill, but rather that we are currently at risk of yet another "blowout" oil spill disaster if immediate industry and government reforms are not implemented.

In the words of Bob Graham, co-chairman of the commission and former Florida senator, "If dramatic steps are not taken, I'm afraid at some point in the coming years another failure will occur and we will wonder why did the Congress, why did the administration, why did the industry allow this to happen?"

Thus, with the release of this report we have reached a crossroads in dealing with the gulf oil spill: Do we consider the problem solved and go back to business as usual, or do we respond to these recommendations by implementing real change in hopes of ensuring a more secure future?

As the community of faith, we must choose to respond by making a change. We must show consistency in our conviction that God has called us to be good stewards of creation by holding Congress and the oil industry accountable for its actions. We must respond to the palpable anguish of our brothers and sisters of the gulf by demanding that Congress allot significant funds for Gulf Coast restoration efforts. We must also build a new future for our children and grandchildren based on clean energy that does not pollute God's beautiful earth.

The oil industry may try to discourage future regulations, politicians may insist on waiting for a better time for reform and the public may grow disinterested in the not-so-breaking-news of the gulf oil spill. But we as Christians must be tireless in our calls for justice for the marginalized and protection of God's creation, no matter what the political and social climate.

The time is now for Congress and the president to act on the recommendations of the commission's report. I pray that they will do so in a thoughtful and timely manner.

Andrew Simpson is a policy intern for Sojourners.

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