Oil industry public relations professionals are expert at soothing people’s concerns about the risks of oil spills associated with offshore oil drilling. Thanks to new technology, they say, oil spills almost never happen now. Even when oil spills happen, they say, new technology allows the mess to be cleaned up almost right away – like it never happened.
Whenever you hear someone make a claim like that, I want you to remember this photograph. It’s of a dolphin swimming through the polluted water near the Timor Sea oil spill that has been spewing crude oil into Australian and Indonesian waters for more than two months now – nonstop. It’s an oil spill that rivals the size of the Exxon Valdez spill – the spill that the oil companies promised could never happen again.
The dolphin you see here is one of several starving dolphins that were spotted by the World Wildlife Fund during a recent survey of the Timor Sea. Ordinarily, a cetacean’s sides are smooth and round. To see a whale’s ribs is a sign of severe weight loss.
Of course, it’s not just dolphins that are being affected by the Timor Sea oil spill. Other animals, less cute, are also having to swim through the immense slick. Sea snakes swimming through oily waters were also seen.
In spite of the evidence of a massive ecological disaster collected during this survey, the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association has actually claimed that the survey found no evidence of harm to the inhabitants of the Timor Sea. Do you think the executives at the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association can count the ribs on that dolphin? Even PTTEP Australasia, the offshore drilling company that is responsible for the oil spill in the first place, admits that there is a high rate of death among sea birds exposed to the slick.
It seems that another wildlife survey has been to the area of the oil spill – but it isn’t making its findings available to the public. Why not?
There continues to be a lot of money at stake for oil drilling companies. In spite of its responsibility for the Timor Sea oil spill, and its inability to stop the spill from continuing in spite of three attempts with its most advanced technology, PTTEP Australasia was just awarded the right to drill in several new locations in Australian waters. The company now has Australian government permission to conduct just the same sort of operations that led to the Timor Sea spill in the first place.
Oil spills are far from rare occurences. During the two months that the Timor Sea oil spill has been going on, four separate oil spills have taken place in the seas around the Southeastern United States.