The impacts of the nine-week West Timor oil rig blowout are creating an environmental catastrophe for wildlife and ocean ecosystems. In August, the West Atlas/Montara offshore drilling rig, widely touted as a “safe, modern” operation, suffered what the rig’s operators termed a “loss of well control.” Despite three attempts to stop the resulting massive oil spill, oil continues to leak into the surrounding ocean. Estimates of the volume of oil spilled since the August 21 Australian blowout have now expanded as much as five-fold, to more than 9.7 million gallons, while the oil slick has covered several thousand square miles of ocean waters.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Senate is now discussing allowing essentially the same kind of “environmentally-responsible” offshore drilling to go forward off the coasts of Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida’s Gulf Coast and Panhandle beaches.
“If anything like the Australian blowout ever takes place off of the Southeast U.S. beaches or in Florida waters, the economic and environmental consequences will last for decades,” said Richard Charter, government relations consultant with Defenders of Wildlife. Worldwide, conservation interests have become increasingly concerned as satellite images have shown that the mega-spill has spread from Australia’s whale and sea-turtle rich Kimberley Coast into distant Indonesian waters as well. Three prior attempts to stop the flow of oil have failed, and a fourth attempt this week had to be postponed due to equipment failure.