The Latest Shell Oil Spill: Why Isn’t Anybody Talking About The Bigger Problem?

Last Thursday, the largest oil spill since BP’s 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster flooded the Gulf of Mexico.

This time, the oil spill came from Shell — and, sadly, it’s just the latest leak in a long line of spills that have called into question the White House’s proposed Oil and Gas Leasing program.

This spill is more than just an environmental disaster. It’s a revelation that oil spills are nothing new. And in a world that is steadily approaching the deadline on its fossil fuel reserves, it’s clear that inaction is no longer an option.

Here’s why the latest Shell oil spill is part of an even larger issue — and what we can do to stop it.

Impacts Of The Shell Oil Spill

The US Coast Guard and Shell are cleaning up an estimated 88,000 gallons of oil spilt into the Gulf of Mexico, the largest region the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) leases for domestic oil and gas production.

The spill — caused by a leaking underground pipeline — began last Thursday, 90 miles south of Timbalier Island off the Louisiana coast. Production has since been closed due to the spill, which spread across 13 miles.


For reference, that’s an oil spill equivalent to the size of Manhattan.

“The trajectory is in a westerly direction with no shoreline impacts anticipated at this time,” Shell said in a statement.

But here’s the most terrifying truth about the spill: it’s being treated as business as usual. In a world where fossil fuel reserves are steadily running out, that mentality is a dangerous one to have.

The Concerning Frequency Of Oil Spills


Oil spills happen all the time in drilling regions. While some news outlets report that spills happen every year, the reality is that small-scale leaks happen on a monthly, and sometimes daily, basis.

The Gulf Oil Spill Tracker posts user-submitted reports of oil spills in the water and on land. While not all of the listings are officially verified, they paint an alarming picture of frequent spills in the Gulf of Mexico region.

One report near Grand Chenier, LA reads:

“The caller is reporting a discharge of condensate due to equipment malfunction. The caller stated that while transferring the product from a storage tank to a tanker truck, a switch malfunctioned on the truck, which caused the product to overflow from a vent.”

Similar reports reveal that not all oil spills are the size of Manhattan. Sometimes, they’re small-scale disruptions that still carry dangerous consequences for the surrounding environment.

Consider the infamous BP oil spill. Back in 2010, it was the worst environmental disaster on record. You might remember Dawn’s feel-good commercials, which showcase oil-covered animals being washed and returned to the wild.

Watching ducklings getting baths is adorable, but the fact remains that the region is still recovering from the oil spill. An NPR report on the Gulf of Mexico, written five years after the spill, outlines its sobering effects: dolphins in the bay are “sick and dying at a higher rate than normal and show signs of oil poisoning.” The oil also coated and killed the roots of mangrove trees,and the spill accelerated the pace at which Louisiana is losing its land.

Cleanup in the area will continue for years — and last Thursday’s Shell oil leak is the largest spill since then. Despite its size, the spill is only classified as a medium spill according to US Coast Guard guidelines — which means that it’s greater than 10,000 gallons and less than 100,000 gallons. But not by much.

Even for smaller spills in the region, animals ranging from dolphins to crickets are subject to the damaging effects of oil poisoning. In one experiment, biologists caged crickets and floated them around a marsh in the Gulf five years after the spill. The crickets died because of the fumes.

How To Prevent Oil Spills

Oil spills of any size are not business as usual. They’re a wake-up call. The best way to prevent oil spills is to stop drilling in the first place.

Demonstrations have already been held in Washington, DC, some of which were part of a larger movement by an organization called Break Free. Spanning two weeks, Break Free’s movement featured over 30,000 participants across 6 continents. It was organized to protest fossil fuel extraction as the Obama administration finalizes its offshore drilling plan.


The offshore drilling proposal aims to manage regional oil drilling leases over the next five years in the Gulf of Mexico, Alaska, and the Atlantic and Pacific regions. In the Gulf, the plan proposes two annual lease sales that include all of the Western, Central, and Eastern areas not subject to the current Congressional moratorium.

Traditionally, the Gulf is only subject to one sale in the Western and Central regions, so this proposal includes greater land area for drilling to reduce our reliance on foreign oil. The Obama administration has declared Atlantic waters off limits for oil and gas leasing for the next five years. But by opening up new swaths of land for drilling, we’re just perpetuating the problem in different regions — which is the opposite direction we need to take.

May Boeve, executive director of climate activist group, said in a statement:

“If the President is going to meet the targets he agreed to at the climate talks in Paris, he needs to keep fossil fuels in the ground or in this case, under the sea. We can’t afford any more oil spilling into the oceans and carbon pouring into the atmosphere.”

Future presidential candidates have made their positions on climate change and offshore drilling clear in the past. One of the ways we can prevent oil spills from happening in the future is by voting for candidates who have expressed an awareness of the issues with drilling and an understanding that there are safer, more environmentally friendly alternatives — like the renewable energy research we should have been focusing on all along.


Another option is to directly respond to the BOEM and comment on the proposed Oil and Gas Leasing Program at

We’re running out of time before oil fossil fuels are depleted. Some estimates state that oil will run out by 2052. Now more than ever, we need to stop allowing ourselves to hear the news of oil spills and feel like it’s just a part of life. Unless we take action now, future generations won’t have much of a life to barter.

Originally published at Feeling down? Check out “5 Surprising Renewable Energy Sources You Have To See To Believe.” Follow me on Twitter.

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