Six Months Later, What Did We Learn From The Oil Disaster In The Gulf?

It was May when a fishing boat carrying Ed Overton and other scientists pulled away from what would become the largest accidental oil spill in history. The ocean was soupy and brown. The air tasted like gas. Some reporters looked green in the face. The oil stretched nearly from horizon to horizon.

Overton, sitting on a beanbag in the back of the boat, was upset. ""It just irritates the piss out of me that we were not prepared for a situation like this and didn't have studies on these issues,"" the Louisiana State University professor said as the boat skipped waves through the coastal marshes, heading back to shore. He added that he ""should have raised more hell"" about how the U.S. was unprepared to deal with a disaster of this magnitude.

But, even then, Overton saw a sparkle in the muck: Maybe we all will learn something from this experience, he said. Six months after a BP-owned offshore oil rig exploded, setting off a violent leak 5,000 feet below the surface of the Gulf of Mexico, there is still much debate about what the United States has or hasn't learned from this disaster. As other issues -- like November elections and Chilean miner rescues -- dominate news cycles, there are also accusations that we've all turned a blind eye to the nagging problems that caused such an enormous spill in the first place.

Some things have changed in the past half-year, though.The Obama administration has issued a number of rules that aim to prevent offshore drillers from chasing petrol profits at the expense of safety.

The Department of the Interior, for example, now requires oil companies to get independent audits of their blowout prevention systems, those hulking metal contraptions that are supposed to snap oil risers in the case of an underwater explosion, and which failed on the Deepwater Horizon rig. Oil rigs also will be subjected to surprise inspections by federal regulators, according to Reuters."