Deepwater Horizon: 10 Years After the Largest Accidental Oil Spill in U.S. History

On April 20, 2010, a catastrophic blowout of BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig in the Gulf of Mexico resulted in the release of 210 million gallons of oil into the environment during 87 days of leaking.

Sadly, eleven workers lost their lives. Additionally, 65 of the 115 survivors suffered physical and psychological injuries. The BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill became one of the biggest environmental disasters in U.S. history.

Environmental Effects of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill

The resulting muck washed up onto more than 1,300 miles of shoreline from Texas to Florida. Tens of thousands of birds, fish, sea turtles, and other marine animals died in the aftermath.

“The highest levels of oil pollution were found in fish living in the northern Gulf of Mexico, where the Deepwater Horizon spill occurred. Storms and currents stir up oily sediments, which keeps exposing fish living toward the bottom of the Gulf over and over.” — according to CNN

Scientists are still uncovering environmental damage caused by the Deepwater Horizon explosion. The toxic extent of the spill could have been 30 percent larger than previously thought. “Invisible oil” that satellites couldn’t detect was not included in the total leakage, according to a new study conducted in February 2020. As climate change pushes tides higher onto low-lying shorelines, it has been found that the the BP spill eroded land on Louisiana’s already jeopardized coast.

BP’s culpability in the crisis has continued to unfold over time. The oil giant was found guilty of gross negligence that led to the catastrophic spill. It had to pay $65 billion in claims and cleanup costs.

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A wildlife biologist from Georgia’s Department of Natural Resources surveying oiled sargassum seaweed in the Gulf of Mexico after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010. (Georgia Department of Natural Resources)

Where Does the Offshore Drilling Industry Stand Today?

Ten years later, the offshore drilling industry is still reeling from that tragic event. But it claims to be better prepared to respond to a similar event should it occur today. Critics, however, still demand stronger regulations to decrease the risk of such an accident happening again.

In 2010, some of the equipment needed to stop the flow of oil, like the capping stack that ultimately did just that, had to be built from scratch. Today, the oil industry must have that equipment ready and standing by. Regulators have made this a mandatory requirement before a company can start drilling.

Additionally, according to NPR, each drilling company doesn’t have to develop its own response team. Instead, it subscribes to one of two companies:

Ten years ago none of these preparations and regulations were in place. All this occurred in direct response to the Deepwater Horizon incident.

Offshore drilling is undoubtedly safer today than it was that fateful spring night a decade ago. The hope is that the industry and its regulators are prepared for a similar event should one occur.

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