2010: Blowout: The Deepwater Horizon Disaster


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The entire piece is riveting but if you only watch a few minutes I suggest you watch the last six.

14 years later, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill continues to affect Louisiana

Saturday marked the Deepwater Horizon oil spill’s 14th anniversary. The environmental disaster plagued the Gulf Coast for months when it began. Its consequences are still felt today. 

The destruction of Louisiana’s coastal ecosystems is one of the most prominent effects of the disaster. The spill killed countless plants, weakening the strength of the coastline and accelerating Louisiana’s coastal erosion. 

Even a decade after the spill, Louisiana’s coastal marsh soils showed high levels of oil contamination compared to pre-spill levels, according to research published in science journal, Environmental Pollution. Oil contamination was still 10 times higher than normal levels in a 2018 report. 

That crude contaminants have had lasting effects on multiple aquatic and terrestrial species and their offspring, according to reports from the National Wildlife Federation. The conservation organization reported up to 3.8 billion oysters were poisoned in the years following the spill.

The coasts of Louisiana, Texas, Alabama, Florida and Mississippi were all severely impacted in the years following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

The disaster "left the region reeling from a disrupted coastal economy; a devastated ecosystem; the deaths of as many as 105,400 sea birds, 7,600 adults, and 160,000 juvenile sea turtles; and up to a 51-percent decrease in dolphins in Louisiana’s Barataria Bay,” according to The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. 

In 2020, Louisiana's Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority published a 16-page document as a retrospective on the Deepwater Horizon explosion. The report wrote that four square miles of coral reef were destroyed by the oil spill, concluding it would take from between 50 and 100 years for those reefs to recover to their pre-spill state—and even that wasn’t guaranteed. 

The CRPA also reported oil exposure inclined mammals like dolphins and whales to illnesses and reproductive problems previously uncommon to them.

"Five years after the spill, 75 percent of pregnant dolphins failed to give live birth,” the report read. “Some experts expect the Gulf dolphin population, with their intricate social bonds and slow rates of maturation, will take at least four decades to recover from the loss of reproductive adults."

Billions of fish eggs died in the disaster, the CPRA report read.

The organization also documented the spill’s long-term effects on fish reproduction. 

They found many post-spill fish and oysters were born with "physical disorders, including cardiac, neural and reproductive dysfunctions; skin lesions; and feeding and swimming disabilities."

The environmental harm of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill rippled into other sectors, too. 

The spill cost Louisiana about 22,000 jobs, according to CPRA’s report. 

Those who worked to clean the oil and lived in the immediate area also suffered health problems. Shortness of breath, headaches, chronic cough, dizzy spells and chest pain were some of the symptoms reported by those exposed to the spill, even decades after the disaster. 

CPRA’s report also discussed how the spill affected Louisiana’s Gulf towns socially and psychologically. Communities who have experienced great traumas—like hurricanes, flooding and in this case oil spills—are more vulnerable to the effects of future disasters. 

The Spill:

The Deepwater Horizon oil rig was located in the Macondo Prospect area of the Gulf, just 41 miles from Louisiana’s coast. Owned by Transocean and leased by British Petroleum, the rig would produce thousands of barrels of oil each day. 

On April 20, 2010, a pocket of natural gas surged from the Deepwater Horizon's well into its drilling apparatus. The rig’s Blowout Preventer, an industry standard failsafe designed for just that scenario, failed. The surge of gas destroyed the drill’s concrete core, which was designed to seal the well.

After blasting through the core, the pocket of natural gas made its way to the rig's platform causing a disastrous explosion and fires that didn't end until the rig capsized days later.

The explosion killed 11 workers and injured 17. 

In the weeks and months following the explosion, the world watched as 134 million gallons of crude oil bled into the Gulf Coast. 87 days later, on July 15, the oil well was finally capped. 

To this day, the Deepwater Horizon disaster is considered to be the largest marine oil spill in history. 

Later that year, the United States sued BP and affiliates. As investigations began and information was released, it became clear leadership at the companies knew their safety procedures and equipment were unsafe. Still, they refused to replace the equipment or update the procedures to cut costs. 

During the spill, the Gulf states had to close large swaths of their state waters to fishing. Fifty-five percent of Louisiana's state waters closed. In Mississippi, they were forced to close 95%. It took months for the oil to clear. 

In 2012, BP signed a criminal plea agreement for $4 billion for its part in ... Transocean Offshore Deepwater Drilling signed a civil settlement of $1 billion in 2013 and a criminal plea agreement of $400 million. 

In April 2016, BP was made to pay $20.8 billion to the federal government and affected states in the most significant environmental damage settlement in the nation’s history.

Years passed, and the oil spill took billions of dollars to clean up. But the worst was presumably over. 

Scientists began to investigate the spill's long-term effects and activist groups began the long process of cleaning Louisiana’s coastal ecosystems. 

In 2019, NOAA reported that $226 million was going to 18 projects aimed at restoring populations of marine life affected by the 2010 spill, including repairing their land and ecosystems.

Today, April 20 may pass for many as a day indistinct from others. But even 14 years later, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill continues to influence the ecosystems, economies and people of Louisiana. 


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