Exactly five years ago (April 20, 2010), BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil well exploded in the Gulf of Mexico killing 11 people and injuring 17 more. The explosion unleashed one of the worst environmental disasters in human history. For 87 days (April 20 and July 15, 2010) the oil spewed from the well and by the time it was finally contained at least 3.2 million barrels (134 million gallons) of crude oil had contaminated the Gulf of Mexico and 1,100 miles of coastline.
The worst marine disaster ever damaged bird sanctuaries, marine and wildlife habitats. It also soiled beaches, killed wildlife and devastated local economies. The ecologically vital marsh lands of the gulf coast have not recovered and wildlife is still suffering.
The Gulf may look clean but it is not. Even after a five year $28 billion clean-up operation the repercussions from the spill continue to this day. While much of the oil has evaporated or dissolved, up to 10 million gallons of oil remain on the sea floor. About 3,243 sq miles of the sea floor is still covered with oil from the disaster. Oil can also be found in marshes along the coast and deposits still wash up on shore.
The unprecedented spill took place 5000 feet below the surface of the ocean, 40 miles off the Louisiana coast. It had immediate economic impacts on the fishing industry and tourism. It also took a devastating toll on wildlife. Untold thousands of birds, turtles fish and shrimp were killed in the aftermath and a range of species are being impacted to this day. Dolphins and turtles are dying in record numbers and fisheries are still being affected.
The head of the NOAA during the spill Jane Lubchenco aptly summarized events when she said, “The spill was — and continues to be — a disaster. The bottom line is that oil is nasty stuff. Yes, the Gulf is resilient, but it was hit pretty darn hard.”
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