Gorney: But it just doesn't seem—in spite of what the government has said—that stricter regulatory oversight actually is being put in place.
Safina: No, it doesn't. I agree with you. I haven't seen anything like that either. And if there is anything I'm not aware of it. There could be some things that would be a radical program, like the companies would have to pay for MMS to be a sort of safety supervisor on all of the rigs—either at all times, or at certain points, like the abandon juncture, for instance [the point at which the Deepwater Horizon blowout occurred]. You might have to have, let's say, someone from the government overseeing safety on the rig who had veto authority on every step of the procedure. You can imagine easily that if there was somebody on the rig at that time last year they could have nixed the idea of putting that thick spacer into the drilling fluid, they could have nixed the idea of displacing the well to sea water while there was still some question about a pressure gauge. They could have stopped it and they could have overridden all the pressure the company people felt to hurry up.
Gorney: The portrait you paint of BP is of a culture in which accidents, even disasters, are an accepted cost of doing business, of extracting oil as quickly and expeditiously as possible—even compared to other companies. Have I gotten the wrong impression?
Safina: That's the impression I have as well.
Gorney: Your book is a heartbreaking account of oil-soaked pelicans, turtles, and dolphins. Yet you also write of the Gulf's apparent resiliency, the sargassum grass that's coming back, the apparent health of the dolphins now. You say that the season's respite from fishing may have more than offset the effects of the spill for most fish. One year on, what is the state of marine life in the Gulf?
Safina: It certainly seems as though worst fears did not come to pass as far as the destruction of marine life and the destruction of viability of marine life. Now, there has not enough time to know whether the ability of fish, let's say, to reproduce is going to going to be compromised, or to what extent it might be. But it certainly is interesting to note that the massive die-offs that people feared did not seem to happen.
There still could be some surprises—for instance, there were no documented mass die-offs of dolphins in the Gulf last year. But this spring there was a greatly elevated die-off of newborn dolphins. Nobody knows why that is, and it's not unprecedented. It could have to do with the oil, and it might have nothing to do with the oil. We might see, for instance, that all the fish seem to survive but they have trouble breeding this year. That's not outside the realm of possibility.
But I don't expect it. I don't expect that, given the fact that the oil has been getting diluted, and weathering and being metabolized by microbes, that the future effects will be worse than the acute effects were. In a much more devastating spill, the Exxon Valdez, you had incredibly severe acute effects and then very, very long-term chronic effects. But it just doesn't seem like you would expect where the acute effects were a lot less than anybody expected, that the long-term effects would be a lot worse.