Ten years since Deepwater Horizon

Ten years ago I started this blog. I was a freshman in college, and one of the first environmental sciences classes I had taken (EVER!) was about water issues.

And then BAM — a well head exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, resulting in BP dumping nearly five million barrels of oil (over 200 million gallons) into the gulf over a period of four months. 11 people died as a result of the explosion on the rig. This event is widely-known as the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

In the years after, BP was found criminally liable for manslaughter and felony counts of lying to Congress, and was fined over $18 billion — the largest corporate settlement in U.S. history. This does not include the clean-up costs, charges, and penalties, which have totaled over $65 billion to date.

I ended up blogging about it for years after and even wrote an iBook about it for the Pennsylvania Earth Science Teacher’s Association.

It ended up being the largest oil spill in history and of course still has implications for the Gulf, its surrounding communities, and the oil industry today.

The Gulf is still recovering, and might not ever get back to the way it was.

This spill has changed the Gulf ecosystem forever. An estimated 1 million animals died as a result of the spill!

Scientists know there is still oil in the Gulf, trapped in marshes and on the seafloor, but it is “impossible to know how much remains — and where it all is.”

“An extraordinary amount of oil went into the Gulf, penetrating Gulf estuaries, coating beaches and coating marshes,” said David Muth, director of Gulf restoration for the National Wildlife Federation. “After a disaster like that, you would not expect to see full recovery after 10 years, and indeed we don’t.”

NBC News

Many animal species have not rebounded. Deep-sea coral, common loons, and spotted sea trout are all showing lower numbers than before the spill. Dolphins and turtles are still dying at record numbers. The brown pelican, Louisiana’s state bird, is thankfully making a rebound.

“We can’t really see the seafloor, so we don’t really know how [the oil] has affected whales.” It’s hard to tell, she says, whether or not oil from sediments is getting resuspended into the water and affecting cetaceans’ food. (Here’s why “shocking” amounts of oil fell to the seafloor.)

National Geographic

Hydrocarbons from the oil spill still live in fish, which makes them unable to reproduce (bad news for fishing stocks).

People in the Gulf region are still sick, and their livelihoods have changed.

No one should be surprised. Let’s dump 200 million gallons of oil in your backyard and see what happens!

Gulf residents are still sick, and the impacts of the spill have increased the risk of heart disease and and heart attacks.

Fish stocks have severely declined, completely changing the way of life for many fishermen. Families have had to move out of the region completely.

BP is still paying for it.

Yes, a good thing they actually got charged for something (even if it wasn’t for causing climate change). But did they end up paying enough? Definitely not.

If the fines ($18 billion, plus $65+ billion for cleanup costs and other charges) were enough for, you know, the GREATEST ENVIRONMENTAL DISASTER IN HISTORY, they would have gone bankrupt and never gone back into business.

But as of 2020, they are shifting their views on climate change (huh?) and pledging to go “net zero on carbon” (?????) and are as profitable as ever. They are even convinced that renewable energy is good (duh), yet are still drilling in the Gulf (hmmmmmmm).

In fact, BP remains one of the biggest oil producers in the Gulf of Mexico.

And they are still not bankrupt from all the fines. Interesting…..

This could happen again.

Not to be all doom and gloom, but this region is primed for another massive oil spill.

Offshore drilling may have temporarily collapsed after the disaster ten years go, but it is back stronger than ever now. The only thing that might slow development is the drop in oil prices due to COVID-19 — certainly not because BP is doing the right thing.

On top of this, the Trump administration has expanded drilling permits in the region, because why wouldn’t they? His administration has done so in the Pacific and the Arctic, too, so this kind of disaster could happen anywhere in the world’s oceans, which are already being plagued by extreme heat and coral die-offs. And because of this, many activists are calling for the end of off-shore drilling altogether.

The bottom line: we are not out of the woods from this spill TEN YEARS AGO, and we are not ready for another spill, which could be, unfortunately, on the horizon.

Cover photo by Deepwater Horizon Response on flickr

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s