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04/20/2012

Oil Spill: Deepwater Horizon Platform Spills Hundreds Of Millions Of Gallons Into The Gulf Of Mexico

Big Oil Hall of ShameBig Oil has a shameful history. That’s why in this series we are highlighting some of its most recent disastrous oil spills and raising awareness of the devastation that will occur if the industry is allowed to drill in the Arctic and off our coasts. Join us in the effort to protect our special places from drilling!

The Deepwater Horizon platform located off the coast of Louisiana experienced well failure and subsequently exploded, killing 11 crew members and injuring 17 others on April 20, 2010. This was the worst oil spill the United States has ever experienced. To put it in perspective, the Exxon Valdez tanker spilled 10.8 million gallons of crude oil into the Prince William Sound, while the Deepwater Horizon well released hundreds of millions of gallons into the Gulf of Mexico. The well gushed a staggering 62,000 barrels per day when the well first exploded, and was not capped until three months later on July 15th. The oil itself fanned out and covered an astounding 46,000 square miles of the Gulf of Mexico. The proximity to the coastline, and the underwater currents in the Gulf provided a vehicle for distributing the oil to all of the surrounding states with Gulf Coastlines.

The oil invaded over 650 miles of shoreline, devastating coastal habitats, beaches, wildlife preserves, homes, tourist destinations and fisheries. Thirty two National Wildlife Refuges were impacted by this disastrous oil spill. Wildlife can be harmed through physical contact, ingestion, inhalation and absorption. One of the most prevalent images associated with oil spills are the thousands of marine and land animals totally covered with slimy oil. The worst part is that they have no way to clean themselves, and subsequently rely on people to save them from certain death by removing the oil through a rigorous cleaning procedure. However, there is only a 30% survival rate for marine wildlife that have been scrubbed clean of the slimy oil and returned to the ocean and their coastal habitats. Most of the animals will die due to liver or kidney failure as a result of ingesting the oil.

D10-Drilling image_US Coast Guard

Southern Louisiana is home to about 40% of the nation’s coastal wetlands, yet has been facing destruction from the oil industry for decades. The state has lost 1,900 square miles of land since the 1930’s which is devastating for the marine ecosystems present in the wetlands. These wetlands provide numerous wildlife habitats, aquatic nurseries and breeding grounds for thousands of marine animals, nesting birds and migratory birds. The oil spill occurred at the worst time possible for many bird species as the Trans-Gulf Migration was at its peak, with upwards of 30 million birds crossing the Gulf of Mexico. The breeding season for birds, sea turtles, and invertebrates was also greatly affected and many offspring did not survive due to the enormous amount of oil invading their breeding grounds. Brown Pelicans, Black Skimmers and the Sanderling are some of the birds that face faltering populations due to their disrupted breeding season. Oysters, crabs, shrimp and fish species such as the menhaden, and North Atlantic bluefin tuna also face severe population threats. Scientists have concluded that billions of fish eggs and larvae died in the spill, greatly affecting the future of fisheries. Thousands of birds,fish, sea turtles and dolphins were killed by the oil spill, although the true number will never be known.

The environment is not the only victim of the spill however, the coastal economy of the 5 Gulf states effected have struggled to stay in business since the disastrous oil spill. The Gulf of Mexico was once a booming seafood center. Florida, for example, used to pull in 37 million a year from their fishing economies. The Gulf in its entirety has a 3 billion a year fishing industry and provides 1/3 of all the seafood consumed in the US each year. The oil spill ruined this economy for all the fisherman and seafood farms along the Gulf Coast. Fishing was banned, farms closed down due to contamination, and seafood prices skyrocketed which caused many people to lose their jobs and livelihoods. Tourism slowed to a halt as beaches from Texas to Florida closed down due to the slimy oil covering the coastline. Some of these beaches have yet to be cleaned, keeping tourism and the economy at bay.

The terribly insufficient effort of the BP oil company to stop the gushing riser from releasing more oil into the Gulf demonstrates that the industry’s advances into deep waters has not been matched by advances in response and cleanup initiatives. They have not spent nearly enough time on planning and implementing what they will do in response to oil spills, especially worst-case scenarios like the Deepwater Horizon spill. They know how to drill 5000 feet down into the Gulf of Mexico, but they have no idea how to effectively cleanup their mess, or take responsibility for their lax regulations.

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