BP Deepwater Horizon – The Worst Environmental Disaster in American History

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Environment, Features, International

by Jamison Maeda

In 2010, an explosion on the BP Deep Horizon oil rig off the coast of New Orleans killed 11 workers and released millions of barrels of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico. This was not only the the largest U.S. offshore oil spill, but the worst environmental disaster America has ever faced.

Oil Slick Footprint in Gulf of Mexico

Oil Slick Footprint in Gulf of Mexico

As the clean-up began, scientists noticed that much of the oil was mysteriously unaccounted for. Recently however, studies published by the University of California at Santa Barbara and Florida State University stated that 10 million gallons of Deepwater Horizon oil have created a toxic carpet on the floor of the Gulf of Mexico 3,200 square kilometers in area, or about the size of County Clare.

BP disagrees with these findings. They objected to the US government’s estimate of 4.2 million barrels of oil spilled from the rig, saying that it was probably much less. This is an important figure as BP will be charged per barrel spilled. In 2014, BP was ordered to pay $18 billion for the disaster, but appealed that verdict and continue to claim that no one knows exactly how much oil was spilled.

What we do know however is that residents of the gulf as well as marine life were significantly impacted, dolphins in particular.

“I’ve never seen such a high prevalence of very sick animals” says Lori Schwake, a scientist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Dolphins in the area were examined. Most were anemic, showed signs of liver and lung disease associated with oil contamination. About half were seriously ill and many were not expected to survive. More than 600 dead dolphins were found on the beach. This is 5 times more than normal, and the trend continued for 26 consecutive months. Infant
dolphins were dying at six times the normal rate The Gulf has also seen a five-fold increase in the number of sea turtles stranded. Other animals including pelicans, river otters, minks, and rabbits are also currently at risk from the Deepwater Horizon spill as oil washes into coastal wetlands.

The impact on humans was equally severe. The spill exposed thousands of area residents to health risks associated with oil fumes, particulate matter from controlled burns, and oil dispersant chemicals which in a 2011 study were said to potentially be linked to respiratory issues, kidney issues, skin problems, and cancer.

Even after this historic disaster, oil company PR teams continue to flood the media with promises of safety and responsible business practices. Unfortunately for them, we have not forgotten about the Deepwater Horizon spill, and will continue to oppose dangerous
projects like the Keystone XL Pipeline, or the SOCO International oil exploration in Congo’s Virunga National Park. We should not have to sacrifice our health, and the health of our environment for the sake of executive salaries and oil industry profits.