Shell spills oil, drilling mud off Alabama coast

Global oil giant Royal Dutch Shell announced on Sunday that its Appomattox well off the Alabama coast spilled 319 barrels of oil and drilling fluids into the Gulf of Mexico. This latest spill occurred about 20 miles from BP’s failed Macondo well, which was ground-zero for the massive oil spill that erupted in the Gulf on April 20, 2010.

According to Shell officials, the leak sprang from a booster line connected to the well bore under the Deepwater Nautilus rig, which Shell leased from Transocean just as BP had leased the Deepwater Horizon from Transocean for exploratory drilling. Shell said it isolated and stopped the leak, but that it had shut down and abandoned the well until it could complete the necessary repairs.

Shell downplayed the incident in its statement, saying that “at no time were there safety or well control issues,” and that “the integrity of this well was also not compromised.” Although the synthetic drilling mud that escaped from the well is described as “biodegradable” by its manufacturer’s safety sheet, according to the International Business Times, the compound poses a number of health risks, including cancer and eye, skin, and respiratory tract irritation.

The Mississippi Canyon, where the Shell leak occurred, is also home to BP’s Macondo well. Oil companies typically address relatively minor spills with language that makes them seem harmless, but with hundreds of active drillers in the Gulf and thousands more inactive and abandoned rigs, every gallon of oil released on top of any natural seeps hammers away at the health of this vibrant ecosystem and the people who live there.

Less than one week ago, the U.S. federal government conducted its first auction for Gulf of Mexico drilling leases since the BP oil spill, setting the stage for expanded offshore drilling despite lingering deficiencies in drilling safety measures and enforcement. A number of environmental groups are suing the U.S. government to stop offshore drilling in the Gulf before the necessary improvements are made.

Sadly, the U.S. also gave Shell permission to begin drilling in the remote Chukchi Sea next summer, regardless of the lack of proven resources and abilities to clean up an oil spill in the Arctic’s remote location and extreme conditions.