Deepwater Horizon: Prolonged Effects of a Deadly Disaster

Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill

Three years ago, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill dumped an estimated 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico near the Mississippi River Delta. Considered one of the largest accidental marine oil spills in history, the incident took 11 lives and sparked over 130 lawsuits. The environmental impacts of the spill continue to be studied.

On April 20, 2010, an explosion caused by methane gas led to the deaths of 11 men working on the rig. 115 crew members were rescued before the Deepwater Horizon sank. According to an internal investigation by BP dubbed the Bly Report, eight key findings caused the event. The Bly Report narrowed the faults down to “a well integrity failure, followed by a loss of hydrostatic control of the well. This was followed by a failure to control the flow from the well with the BOP [blowout preventer] equipment, which allowed the release of subsequent ignition hydrocarbons. Ultimately, the BOP emergency functions failed to seal the well after the initial explosions.”

President Obama criticized BP for the damage the company caused, and a White House commission blamed BP for cost-cutting decisions which might have led to an insufficient safety system. Over 130 lawsuits followed the spill. These led to criminal charges, including involuntary manslaughter and environmental damage. BP agreed to pay over $4.5 billion in fines and plead guilty to criminal charges related to Deepwater Horizon’s explosion. BP continues to contest over $21 billion dollars in fines related to pollution that are in violation of the Clean Water Act. BP also plead guilty to a felony count of obstruction of Congress for intentionally misleading Congress about the rate of oil flow from the site of the accident.

Throughout the spill, BP utilized controversial methods in order to contain the oil. This included the use of a dispersal agent called Corexit, which caused the oil to spread more easily
throughout the environment by breaking it down into smaller droplets. The Gulf of Mexico continues to show signs of contamination, including mutations in shellfish and the creation of a bacterial bloom that depleted oxygen levels from certain parts of the Gulf of Mexico.

The Deepwater Horizon oil spill continues to be a controversial subject. The impacts on the environment and communities along the southern coast are still being measured.

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