The other day, in oceanography class, we watched a documentary on the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, also commonly referred to as the BP oil spill that occurred back in 2010. I was a freshman in high school then and I definitely remember hearing about it in the news, but I had no idea how horrific the incident really was. I sat in my seat in 100 Thomas completely appalled at what I was watching. Today, I want to remind you all about some of the details surrounding the catastrophe and pose an interesting question: is it a worthwhile risk to install deep-water oil wells in the Gulf of Mexico given the fallout of this disaster?
The BP oil spill was the deepest and largest accidental oil spill in history, occurring one mile below the surface on April 20th, 2010 at 9:45 pm. It took place off of the Gulf of Mexico in a part of the ocean called the Deepwater Horizon. Petroleum oil flowed into the ocean at an astonishing rate of 840,000-1,700,000 gallons per day for 87 days until the flow was successfully stopped.
You might be wondering why it took so long to successfully stop the flow of oil. Oil spills or incidents of oil rigs catching on fire are not uncommon, however standard procedure only accounts for spills at the surface. The challenge with the Deepwater Horizon was that the leakage occurred 1,500 meters underwater; the floating drilling platform caught on fire at the surface but sank by April 22nd and continued to leak. Because deepwater releases were poorly understood, there were many misconceptions that came along with the attempted clean up procedures. Some of these, for example the usage of toxic dispersants at the source underwater, effectively reduced the total loading of oil into surface waters and the shore, but also brought serious negative consequences for scientists trying to understand the fate of the oil in the ocean’s composition and ecosystems.
Basically, the 87 days the rig leaked oil consisted of hectic attempts of teams of BP officials, engineers, and oceanographers to try anything and everything, including things that had never been tested before, to stop the flow of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. It is estimated that BP spent six million dollars per day on cleanup efforts. Not only was the ocean harmed by this accident, but also the United States lost enormous amounts of one of our most important resources.
The aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill still echoes today. While the majority of it could be cleaned up, those efforts took up incredible amounts of time and money. Beaches were spoiled, resulting in a loss of many turtles and birds that habituate costal areas, fisheries were shut down, and marine life of all trophic levels experienced unfavorable changes in their environment.
Given the destruction of this disaster, I’ve been thinking about whether or not it is worthwhile to install deep-water wells for oil extraction. Currently, about 1/3 of the oil and gas being extracted comes from off-shore sources. I wholeheartedly support conserving our environment, but thinking realistically, I don’t see how we can just cut out this much of our oil sources. I wrote about alternative energy sources last week, and although they are a useful supplement to our current energy dependency on oil, there is no way it can even begin to replace it. I have hope that a deep-water spill of this magnitude will never happen again because as a society we must learn from our mistakes. The Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill was a learning moment: because of it, the oil industry now has information about how to stop such a spill and how to prevent it from happening in the first place. Many congressional hearings have occurred since 2010 to understand how legislation can be improved for large oil spills in the future.
I would love to hear your opinions on this matter. Comment below: is it a worthwhile risk to install deep-water oil wells in the Gulf of Mexico given the fallout of this disaster?
Source: Graham, William M. Oceanography and the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole, Cenage Learning, 2012. Print.