A week has passed since BP finally managed to cap its blown-out oil well deep under the Gulf of Mexico.
With each passing day, there's more reason to believe the gusher of crude is finally contained after 85 days of junk shots, top kill, containment domes and other exotic-sounding failures. Meanwhile, drilling continues to permanently plug the ruptured well with heavy mud and cement far beneath the seafloor.
But even if the leak has been controlled, the catastrophic effects of BP's myriad failures will continue for a long time.
At least 2.3 million barrels — 105 million gallons — has spilled since the April 20 explosion that sank the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig and killed 11 crew members. Since then, oil has tainted almost 600 miles of shoreline from Louisiana to the Florida panhandle. A third of the federal waters in the Gulf are closed to sport and commercial fishing. And scientists say it could take several years to sort out the impact on shrimp, crab, oysters and other marine life, including sperm whales that live in little-studied deep waters of the region.
Like fishing, oil drilling is a mainstay of the Gulf states' economy, and that isn't likely to change. Neither are the slipshod safety precautions of the big oil companies unless Congress and the Obama administration take an active role as blowout preventers.
On Thursday, the House passed legislation sponsored by Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Petaluma, to promote research of oil spill prevention and response techniques. President Barack Obama's recent reorganization of the Minerals Management Service is another positive step. No longer will one agency have potentially conflicting responsibility for maximizing federal revenue from oil and gas development and assessing the environmental safety of offshore drilling projects. Reviews after the Deepwater Horizon blowout found routine agency approval of off-the-shelf disaster response plans that referred to risks to walruses and other Arctic wildlife in the Gulf of Mexico.
Congress also should raise the $75 million liability cap for oil spills that was adopted after the Exxon Valdez disaster in Alaska. That's chump change for companies that measure their quarterly profits in the billions, barely registering against cleanup cost estimates that run as high as $100 billion.
Finally, the Gulf disaster is one more reason to pass legislation sought by Woolsey and Rep. Mike Thompson among others to permanently ban drilling off the North Coast of California.