Earth Week 2015: BP Oil Spill update

Welcome to my annual Earth Week series! I believe that protecting the Earth deserves more than one day, so I’ve given it a week. Check back every day from April 20-24 to learn about a new environmental issue (or solution!) each day.

So, what’s going on with the Gulf of Mexico? The Deepwater Horizon oil spill, more commonly known as the BP oil spill, took place 5 years ago in April 2010. Here’s more background:

In April 2010, there was an oil spill of catastrophic proportions in the Gulf of Mexico due to negligence by BP executives and an explosion on an oil rig. This negligence caused the largest oil spill in U.S. history: 4.9 million barrels (205 million gallons) of oil leaked into the Gulf of Mexico over months, and the blast from the explosion killed 11 workers and sent oil spewing into the Gulf for 87 days. In September 2014, BP was finally found liable for the oil spill in 2010 in court, and was charged with gross negligence. The oil giant could pay up to $4,300 per barrel spilled in fines on top of everything they have already paid (number is floating around $13.7 billion).

Map of the spill during summer 2010 (photo by NASA)
Map of the spill during summer 2010 (photo by NASA)

A lot has happened since then – clean-up efforts have been partially successful, BP has been fined billions, and restoration efforts continue on. On the 5 year anniversary of the spill, news organizations and government agencies alike have compiled information for the public and put them in graphic form.

OnEarth Magazine, magazine of the Natural Resources Defense Council, put together an infographic explaining what scientists know about wildlife deaths, which total in the millions (click-through for full image):

BP oil spill OnEarth

The AP also created a beautiful interactive scrolling image that catalogs the Gulf’s health 5 years after the spill. Categories include the health of the seafloor, mammals, crustaceans, the food web, marshes, birds, fish, water quality, turtles, and beaches before and after the spill. Spoiler alert: every data point except one, the red snapper population numbers, has decreased since the spill (click-through for the full image):

AP gulf oil spill interactive

Here’s a more comprehensive list of what’s been happening since BP was found liable for the oil spill:

1. A study in January 2015: found there may be close to 10 million gallons of oil stuck in the bottom of the Gulf. The scientists speculate the oil may have come from microorganisms digesting it and discarding it on the sea floor, and the extra oil may cause lesions (or death) to deep-sea creatures that live there.

2. The White House has proposed new deep-sea, offshore drilling regulations. If passed, deep-sea drilling rigs, like the BP rig that exploded, will “tighten safety requirements on blowout preventers, the industry-standard devices that are the last line of protection to stop explosions in undersea oil and gas wells,” according to the New York Times. This is huge, considering the blowout preventer is what faulted, causing the Macando well to explode in the first place. These rules and regulations would be imposed on all deep-sea offshore drilling equipment, as this type of drilling is expanding.

If passed, these regulations would be the third of their kind. In 2010, the Department of the Interior introduced new regulations on drilling well casings. In 2012, the DOI announced tighter regulations on the cementing of wells.

3. Cat Island, once one of the four largest bird-nesting grounds in Louisiana, has been disintegrated by the oil from the BP oil spill. Yes – an entire island is gone. National Geographic reports that the spill killed the mangrove trees on the island, the roots of which made up the sediment traps to make Cat Island an actual island. Since there is nothing to hold the sediment, the island has washed away. The 5.5 acre island was once home to rare and endangered birds, including the brown pelican, who’s habitat has been ravaged by the oil spill. Many brown pelicans were also found dead on the shores shortly after the spill. Watch the video below for more:

4. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) continues to work through restoration projects throughout the Gulf, all of which can be seen in this interactive map. NOAA, along with other government agencies, is working with the $700 million pool they have to work on restoration projects revolving around barrier islands, dunes, marshes, shorelines, and oyster beds, along with wildlife issues and recreation areas. For more from NOAA, visit their Response and Restoration website.

Restoration will continue until oil stops washing up on shore or until BP’s money runs out. Craving more? Check out OnEarth’s 5 years later series.

Check back Wednesday 4/22 for Earth Week 3: Happy Earth Day!

 

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