On April 22 2010, the World faced one of its worst oil spill disasters in the history of marine petroleum exploration. A deadly oil well blowout at Macondo Prospect, about 41 miles off the southeast coast of Louisiana, spewed huge quantities of oil for 87 long days causing major environmental and economic troubles to the Gulf region ("Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill"). It started with a fire and explosion, killing 11 workers, and then unleashed a slow motion disaster that spread across the 600 mile gulf coastline.
The massive oil spill disrupted lives and livelihoods, and swallowed up the habitat of many species, leaving their fate to the toxic mix (“Political and environmental Dilemma”). The chain of events started with an accident on board “Deep Water Horizon," a semi submersible oil rig which was leased by British Petroleum, the prime owner of oil exploration at the site. Deep Water Horizon had two successful missions prior to its Macondo Prospect's assignment. It had a good track record of drilling one of the deepest wells at Tiber field in the Gulf of Mexico (“BP Makes Giant Oil Find”).
In fact, on the day of the accident several BP managers were on the Deepwater Horizon for a ceremony to congratulate the crew for seven years without an injury (“A Survivor Recalls the Disaster – 60 Minutes”). The drilling was in its final stages and the Deep Water Horizon rig was about to conclude its operations and move to the next project. At 9:45 P.M. on 20 April 2010, a geyser of seawater erupted from the marine riser onto the rig, shooting 240 ft into the air.
This was soon followed by the eruption of a combination of mud, methane gas, and water. The gas component of the spewed material quickly transitioned into a fully gaseous state, not needed ignited into a series of explosions, and then converted into a firestorm. Attempts were made to activate the Blowout Preventer (BOP), a 40 foot metallic device designed to stop the sudden kick-out materials coming from oil wells, but it failed to function, resulting in the massive oil leak. The exact root cause of the accident is still under investigation but it is believed that the BOP and the shut off valves did not work (“Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill”).
Organizational and managerial mishandling during drilling and cementing procedures of the well is also suspected to be the other cause. Unusual pressure readings in the hours before the blowout indicated there was a large abnormality in the well. But the management ignored the information and the drilling crew began removing the mud that was holding back the high-pressure gas (Welsh & Joyner).
At the time of accident around 126 workers of different companies were on board the rig. As a result of the explosion 11 people went missing, a dozen were injured, and the rest of them were rescued. The rescue missions searched for the missing persons but never could find anyone and they were presumed dead.
The deep water horizon rig burned for 36 hours and later drowned to the sea bed (Scientist). The resultant oil spill continued for 87 days, closing a significant portion of the Gulf to fishing, fouling approximately 600 miles of coastline, and washing oil into marshes, wetlands, and inland waterways. The oil spill caused a great damage to the economic base of the region, disrupting lives and livelihoods along the central and northern Gulf Coast (Lerner). According to Fox News, the BP oil spill hammered the fishing and tourism industries by resulting in a $73 billion cut in the first quarter of the US economy.
Spending on tourism moved elsewhere. Beach goers who might have headed for Pensacola, Florida, went looking toward Atlantic Coast sites such as Myrtle Beach, South Coast. The most worrisome factor of an underwater oil spill is its ecological impact which has the potential of long term consequences on marine life. Thousands of birds and other marine animals were killed or injured by the spill. The immediate areas of study included spill impacts on existing wildlife populations, but the damage to future generations caused by poisoning or destruction of eggs and larvae is hard to estimate.
According to a report published by US Fish & Wild Life on January 25, 2011, local authorities collected 6,124 dead birds and 100 sea turtles (“Wildlife Collection Report”). Wildlife Report Experts contend that it will take several years to fully assess the environmental and ecological impact of the spill. The extent of environmental damage is directly proportional to the amount of oil spilled and the area it covers. Although both BP and government officials initially downplayed the importance of estimating the extent of the spill, industry and environmental experts said accurate estimates were key to planning and assessing remediation efforts.
The final estimate of the oil spill now stands at 4.9 million barrels, the volume that far surpassed many previous spills on American soil. A previous accident caused by the collision of the Exxon Valdez oil tanker in Alaska spilled about 760 thousand barrels, slicking 11,000 square miles of ocean surface and 1,300 miles of pristine Alaskan coastline, and killing hundreds of thousands of birds and marine mammals and untold numbers of fish and fish eggs ("Gauging the Long-Term Impacts”).
As a result of the BP Oil spill, the US government imposed a temporary moratorium on off shore drilling. A great amount of work was done by the government and BP Management to clean up the oil slick across the shore of the Gulf of Mexico. BP committed 20 billion dollars for oil-spill victims over the course of 5 years and released 100 million dollars to help oil workers sidelined by the moratorium on deepwater drilling ("Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill"). The local Gulf residents were able to recoup their losses through BP’s oil spill recovery program.
Life came back to normal and tourists started visiting these places. Businesses have reopened but the questions still remain as to whether or not the spill is totally cleaned. The federal government has announced more controlling measures on the drilling and safety procedures. Many issues and controversies still circle around the aftermath of the incident. Federal companies are yet to reach a conclusion on the exact root cause of the spill, and scientists are yet to fully understand the long term impacts. In their recent investigation using submarine dive scientists found higher levels of oil in the surrounding area of the
Deepwater Horizon spill site (Lerner). As the study continues, environmental experts say that the full ecological impact of the spill remains to be understood and also the potential for substantial future damage. The world must take this incident as an important lesson and the governments must impose more stringent regulations on oil companies to control the safety, licensing, certification and most importantly the emergency response procedures.
As President Barrack Obama said, we must use the Gulf Oil Spill incident as a springboard toward a national energy policy aimed at reducing the need for risky offshore drilling, and make the development of alternative energy sources as a "national mission"(“Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill”).
Works Cited "Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill." Global Issues in Context Online Collection. Detroit: Gale, 2011. Global Issues In Context. Web. 3 Mar. 2011.
"Explosion in the Gulf." New York Times 24 Apr. 2010: A18(L). Global Issues In Context. Web. 3 Mar. 2011. Lerner, Brenda Wilmoth. "Oil Spills: Health Effects." Global Issues in Context Online Collection. Detroit: Gale, 2010. Global Issues In Context. Web. 3 Mar. 2011. Scientist, Grrl. “The Worst Oil Spill in US History.” Scienceblog.com web. 9 June, 2010 Mufson, Steven. “Gulf of Mexico oil spill creates environmental and political dilemmas.” Washington Post web. Tuesday, April 27, 2010 “Economic damage caused by oil spill may not go beyond the Gulf region.”
Foxnews.com web. 28 Jun. 2010 “A survivor recalls: The Deepwater Horizon Disaster – 60 Minutes." cbsnews.com web. 16 May. 2010 “BP Makes Giant Oil Find in Deep U.S. Gulf Well.” dowjones.de web. 02 Sep. 2009 Welsh, William M., and Chris Joyner. “Memorial service honors 11 dead oil rig workers.” usatoday.com web. 5 May. 2010 "Gauging the Long-Term Impacts of the BP Oil Spill.” thedailygreen.com web. 6 May. 2010 “Deepwater Horizon Response Consolidated Fish and Wildlife Collection Report,” fws.gov web 25 Jan. 2011