By Elke Weesjes

Five years ago, devastating images of the BP Deepwater Oil Spill were everywhere—the raging rig fire, the thick ribbons of oil lapping the shores of Louisiana, “spill-cam” footage displaying crude gushing into the Gulf of Mexico. But now, the Deepwater disaster is a distant memory for many, and little has changed in the industry or in the choices we make about energy use.

The April 2010 explosion, which killed 11 rig workers and triggered one of the worst oil spills in history, exposed the costs of a corner-cutting industry that placed profits above human safety and environmental concerns. It also highlighted the too-close relationship between the energy industry and federal regulators. But what it didn’t do was cause any type of long-term change in the public behaviors that make oil such big business.

Investigations into who was at fault divided the blame between BP and its contracters—drilling rig owner Transocean and Halliburton, which cemented the faulty well. The federal government was also called to the carpet for failing to prevent the spill and performing poorly during the recovery phase. But—considering the U.S. dependency on cheap fossil fuels—perhaps the rest of the nation should be held equally responsible. The hunger for big cars, smooth roads, or any of the other 6,000 petroleum-based products used daily shouldn’t be allowed to cloud the memory of the spill.

It didn’t seem as if it would in the early days of the spill. As the scale of the disaster became apparent, public outrage grew and for a brief moment close attention was paid to the way the United States produces and consumes fossil fuels. In the weeks after the explosion, the Obama administration issued a moratorium on off shore drilling, tens of thousands rallied to support clean up efforts, and a worldwide efforts to hold oil companies responsible gained traction. The time seemed ripe for change.

"We all need to take a hard look at how we're living. And how that is having an impact on our world and the health of the planet," Larry Schweiger, president of the National Wildlife Federation, told the Associated Press in the days after the disaster. "How long will it take for folks to wake up to the truth? Clearly, if there is a moment for us to wake up, this is it."

But it wasn’t. The BP spill—like the Exxon Valdez spill before it—did not result in the push for sustainable energy that environmentalists like Schweiger hoped for.

In fact, five years after the explosion, offshore drilling is as popular as ever and carried out at even riskier depths beneath the waters of the Gulf of Mexico. The government has approved more than twenty ultra-deep wells and the number of deep water drilling rigs has increased from 35 at the time of the explosion to 48 last month.

Drilling so deeply exacerbates the factors that make drilling risky but, as critics point out, oil companies have not developed corresponding safety measures and federal oversight of deep water drilling is still inadequate.

“Going to greater depths, greater pressures, does present greater challenges,” Stephen Colville, president and CEO of the International Association of Drilling Contractors, told the Associated Press. “We have this desperate need for energy and we have to go after it wherever it is.”

That brings us to the very core of the issue, which is the United States is addicted to fossil fuel and largely unwilling to give up what many see as a right and a necessity for the American way of life—cheap energy. It’s a cognitive dissonance between the lifestyle we have and what we know about the impact of these lifestyles, according to Dieter Helm, a professor of energy studies at Oxford University.

“We want other people to do stuff, we want to divest from companies—but what about us?” Helm told The Guardian. “We are ultimately the consumers of those carbon-based products, and when we elect politicians, what’s worrying is that we’re not prepared to say: ‘Make us pay for the damage and the pollution we cause.’”