Spill Overview

On April 20, 2010, an explosion attributed to a burst of natural gas occurred on the BP oil rig Deepwater Horizon. Eleven workers were killed. The explosion resulted in the worst marine oil spill in history, spewing a total of almost 5,000,000 barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. The environmental effects of the spill devastated marine plant and animal life and coastlines over Louisiana, Alabama, Florida, and Mississippi. The well was not sealed until 5 months after the initial explosion. Detrimental environmental effects of the spill are still being felt today.

Cleanup Efforts

Cleanup efforts for the spill did not end until April 2014, four years after the spill occurred. Over 1,100 meters of shoreline over four states (Louisiana, Alabama, Florida, and Mississippi) had to be manually cleaned. Over 1.8 million gallons of dispersants, or substances that make it easier for bacteria to break down oil, were pumped directly into the leak and by plane over the spill area. To contain the oil, portions of the slick were corralled off using floating booms and then burned or siphoned off. BP and Transocean, the company which owned the Deepwater Horizon rig, were responsible for cleanup costs. (NOAA 2015, Pallardy 2017)

BP Affected

After the oil spill, BP’s public image and stock value plummeted. BP lost 25% of its market value, and from 2012-2014 was suspended by the EPA from bidding on federal contracts. In 2011, the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling attributed the spill to “a lack of regulatory oversight by the government and negligence and time-saving measures on the part of BP and its partners” (Britannica 2017). Investigation found that BP and Transocean employees had ignored early warning signs which indicated potential problems with the pipeline. In 2012, BP pleaded guilty to 14 criminal counts which included Felony Manslaughter, Environmental Crimes, violation of the Clean Water Act, and Obstruction of Congress Prior to Exposing Historic Sentence. It was the largest criminal resolution in US history with a paid amount of $4 billion. (Pallardy 2017, NOAA 2018)

Protests against BP after the Deepwater Horizon spill. Image courtesy of WikiCommons.

Environmental Impacts

Thousands of birds, marine mammals, and sea turtles were smothered in oil. There was a spike in cetacean deaths and strandings, and an increased occurrence of lung infections and pneumonia in dolphins. The NOAA also found an 80% decrease in the fertility rate of Gulf Coast dolphins which is still seen today. Many birds were trapped in the oil and killed, including 12% of the remaining endangered brown pelicans. Turtle egg and foraging sites were destroyed, especially in environmentally sensitive zones such as estuaries. Dead zones in the seabed range up to 12 miles from the spill. (Pallardy 2017, NOAA 2015)

A Kemp's Ridley sea turtle smothered in oil. Image courtesy of WikiCommons.

Oil Spills and Gulf Coast

In 2008, an oil barge collided with a tugboat in the Mississippi River and spilled 300,000 gallons of oil into the river. This oil traveled into the Gulf of Mexico and is most likely the spill that Barnacle and Sheepshead are referring to when they discuss a previous encounter with “dark water.” Most recently, in October 2017, the Delta House Rig experienced a fractured pipeline which leaked 16,000 barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico over just two days. No cleanup measures were taken as the amount was declared "small" enough not to warrant any. (Pallardy 2017, Caron 2017)

Looking Forward

On January 4, 2018, the Trump administration announced it would allow new offshore oil and gas drilling in almost all of the United State's coastal waters, lifting the ban imposed by the Obama administration. The lifting of this ban is part of an attempt to grow the energy industry and to lift financial burdens held by small oil and gas companies.

Paired with the rollback of environmental and safety regulations that were implemented as a direct result of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill, the United States is looking at a future with more drilling and less regulation. This threatens not just the health of our marine and coastal ecosystems, but human lives as well. (NOAA 2018, Lipton 2018)

CBS News report and commentary regarding the expansion of drilling under the Trump administration.
Trump Moves to Expand Offshore Drilling. CBS News. YouTube. 4 January 2018. 

Content Sources

Caron, Christina. How a 672,000-Gallon Oil Spill was Nearly Invisible. The New York Times, October 29, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/29/science/gulf-oil-spill-louisiana.html

Lipton, Eric. Trump Rollbacks Target Offshore Rules 'Written in Human Blood'. The New York Times, March 10, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/10/business/offshore-drilling-trump-administration.html

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Latest NOAA Study Ties Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill to Spike in Gulf Dolphin Deaths. Office of Response and Restoration, 2015, https://response.restoration.noaa.gov/about/media/latest-noaa-study-ties-deepwater-horizon-oil-spill-spike-gulf-dolphin-deaths.html

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. Office of Response and Restoration, 2018, https://response.restoration.noaa.gov/oil-and-chemical-spills/significant-incidents/deepwater-horizon-oil-spill

Pallardy, Richard. Deepwater Horizon oil spill of 2010. Encyclopedia Britannica online, 2017, https://www.britannica.com/event/Deepwater-Horizon-oil-spill-of-2010