Deepwater Horizon disaster a warning for New Zealand

Press release - April 19, 2011
Auckland : On the eve of the first anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, Greenpeace has released a report detailing how BP tried to hide the true impacts of the biggest oil disaster in American history.

This comes at a time when a flotilla made up of a coalition including te Whānau ā Apanui, the Nuclear Free Seas Flotilla and Greenpeace continues to protest against seismic surveying off the East Cape, in waters up to twice as deep as those of the doomed BP oil rig.

The report, released by Greenpeace USA, is based on thousands of internal documents obtained from Freedom of Information requests relating to last year’s oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, revealing how BP tried to cover up the extent of the disaster and to influence the scientific panel set up to investigate, downplaying the size and impacts of the spill.

It describes how: 80 per cent of the oil from the disaster has yet to be recovered; that at no stage did BP or the Coast Guard conduct accurate measurements of the amount of oil being leaked; that desperate attempts were made to steer research away from looking at the environmental impacts and into pushing a positive message; and that extensive funding was pushed to researchers who were willing to play by the company’s rules.

And although BP originally claimed that only 1000 barrels of oil a day were leaking, the true figure was estimated to be as high as 62,000 barrels a day, totalling 4.4 million barrels over the almost three months that it took BP to cap the well.

“This shows a wilful attempt by the oil company BP and the federal states to deceive the public over the extent of damage being inflicted upon the environment and the coastal communities of the Gulf of Mexico,” says Greenpeace Climate Campaigner Nathan Argent.

“The oil spill is the worst in US history and has become totemic of the deep sea oil drilling industry, yet our own Government seems hell-bent on inviting a similar disaster here. The Deepwater Horizon, an exploratory well, was drilling in 1500 metres of water when it exploded. But Petrobras is currently surveying in up to 3000 metres of water.

“Even if a spill never occurs, we know that creating new frontiers in oil exploration will only make the climate crisis worse. And climate change, more than anything else, is driving economic transformation everywhere,” said Argent.

The long term environmental effects of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill will not truly be known for years to come, although the journal Conservation Biology concluded that total mortality amongst dolphins and whales as a result of the spill may have been 50 times higher than the original estimate.

“If the Government is committed to long term, sustainable economic growth it should be showing leadership by helping shape the global shift towards more efficient, clean technologies,” says Argent.

“We’re already a renewable energy powerhouse, with a wealth of innovation and world class thinking in the clean energy sector that is currently being overlooked in favour of the fossil fuel industries of yesterday.

“It’s time to convert this potential into thousands of jobs and start building a cleaner, more prosperous future for our economy,” says Argent.

A number of groups, in Auckland, Wellington, Nelson, Christchurch, and Dunedin, will be marking the one year anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon spill tomorrow.


1. The ‘polluter watch’ website, which is operated by Greenpeace, allows users to search approximately 30,000 pages of previously unseen documents obtained under Freedom of Information laws. These include internal Government correspondence with BP, evidence of conflict between scientists and officials and even flight records from pilots operating in the region.