March 05, 2012

This Weekend’s News: The Long Wake of Deepwater Horizon

On Friday, BP announced a settlement with thousands of Gulf
Coast individuals and businesses afflicted by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
According to
a report
from The Wall Street Journal,
individuals and businesses will be able to submit two types of claims that will
make up the estimated $7.8 billion settlement: economic-loss claims and medical
claims.  “The
settlement doesn't cover claims against BP by the U.S. Department of Justice or
other federal agencies for violations of the Clean Water Act or by states and
local governments
,” The Wall Street
reported. “BP has been in off-and-on discussions with the
government over those issues in the past.”

Meanwhile, on Sunday The
New York Times
reported that deepwater oil drilling is ramping up again in
the Gulf of Mexico, in large part as a response to the global demand for energy.
a yearlong drilling moratorium, BP and other oil companies are intensifying
their exploration and production in the gulf, which will soon surpass the
levels attained before the accident
,” the report said. “Drilling in the
area is about to be expanded into Mexican and Cuban waters, beyond most
American controls, even though any accident would almost inevitably affect the
United States shoreline.”

According to The New
York Times
report, deepwater drilling continues to be relatively dangerous.
in deepwater fields remains dangerous because of high temperatures and high
pressure when drilling 6,000 feet or more under the sea floor, and accidents
continue to occur, most notably last year off the coasts of China and Brazil
the report found. Nevertheless, the Obama administration continues to issue
drilling permits in waters more than 500 feet deep. The New York Times reported that the administration had issued
61 permits between February 28, 2011 and February 27, 2012
.  Moreover, the administration recently reached
an agreement with Mexico “to open a new tract to offshore drilling, some of it
in water more than 6,000 feet deep, despite
persistent questions about the strength of Mexican oil industry regulation.

U.S. government officials – including the U.S.
Coast Guard – are increasingly worried about offshore oil drilling in non-U.S.
waters that could impact the U.S. coast if an accident occurs. Increased
activity in Cuban waters is a particular concern for U.S. officials. A report
last week from The Washington Post noted that Cuba’s capacity to respond
to an offshore oil spill is extremely limited, with “only 5
percent of the resources needed to contain a spill approaching the size of the
Deepwater Horizon disaster
.” These concerns have also raised the question of
how the United States could respond to an oil spill in Cuban waters given the
state of U.S.-Cuba relations, including export restrictions that prohibit U.S.
companies from providing equipment or otherwise performing response functions
that could be construed as aiding the Cuban government.

Ratifying the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea may
provide the United States a starting point for managing an oil spill in Cuban
waters. Despite a fractious relationship, UNCLOS at the very least provides a
framework for enhancing cooperation with countries that the United States has
few or no diplomatic relations with, including Cuba. In particular, UNCLOS Article
199 obliges “States in the area affected, in accordance with their
capabilities, and the competent international organizations shall cooperate, to
the extent possible, in eliminating the effects of pollution and preventing or
minimizing the damage. To this end, States shall jointly develop and promote
contingency plans for responding to pollution incidents in the marine
environment.” Although UNCLOS would not supersede U.S. laws pertaining to Cuba,
the obligation for the United States to make good on its international commitments could help
facilitate temporary exemptions to the U.S. embargo against Cuba that would allow
U.S. companies and federal agencies to respond to an offshore oil spill in Cuba’s
waters that, if left unaddressed, could affect an area of the U.S. coast
stretching from eastern Florida to North Carolina.

This Week’s Events

Today at 1 PM, head to the U.S.-Japan Research Institute for
a conversation about Biomass
Based Energy Use after March, 2011

Tomorrow at 9 AM, the Press Club will host an event with the
Energy Industry to Discuss Safety Enhancements One Year after Fukushima
. At
the same time, Carnegie will explore One
Year On: Assessing Fukushima’s Impact
. At 1:30 PM, head over to CSIS for Water
and Food Security Challenges: Regional Perspectives

At 9 AM on Wednesday, the Wilson Center will host The
Risk and Regulation of Deepwater Offshore Drilling
. Then at 9:30 AM, the Wilson
Center will explore Secure
Land Rights and Biodiversity Protection in China
. At 3 PM, head to the GWU’s
Elliot School for Visualizing
Nuclear Energy

On Thursday at 8 AM, International Affairs and Development
will discuss the Horn of Africa Food
Security Crisis: Implications for the United States Africa Command
. Then at
8:30 AM, Pew will host a conversation on The
Road to Commercialization: Advanced Biofuels in the Public and Private Sectors

On Friday at 11:30 AM, checkout CSIS’s discussion on Nuclear
Deterrence in the Post, Post-Cold War Era
. Finally at 1:30 PM, head to the
Brookings Institution for Disaster
Response, Recovery, and the Future of Japan-United States Relations One Year
after the Great East Japan Earthquake