On April 20, 2010, a methane bubble caused the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig to explode, killing eleven workers while working on an 18,000-foot well (distance from the ocean floor to the bottom of the well) in the Gulf of Mexico. The rig sank in 4,800 feet of water and landed on it's side on the ocean floor causing damage to the pipes below. Approximately 5,000 barrels or 210,000 gallons of oil per day began to leak into the waters of the Gulf from the damaged pipes. Oil flowed into the Gulf for 87 days before the well was finally capped on July 16, 2010. The rig is owned and operated by Transocean Ltd on behalf of BP (British Petroleum), who is the majority owner.
The spill has caused extensive damage to marine and wildlife habitats as well as the Gulf's fishing and tourism industries. Skimmer ships, floating containment booms, anchored barriers and sand-filled barricades along shorelines were used in an attempt to protect hundreds of miles of beaches, wetlands and estuaries from the spreading oil. Scientists reported immense underwater plumes of dissolved oil not visible at the surface. The U.S. Government has named BP as the responsible party, and officials have committed to holding the company accountable for all cleanup costs and other damages. After its own internal probe, BP admitted that it made mistakes which led to the incident.
The 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill, which was once considered by many to be the most devastating environmental disaster in history, released an estimated 10.8 million gallons of crude oil. However, the estimated amount of oil released by the BP Oil Spill will far exceed the environmental damage caused by the Exxon Valdez. British Petroleum will most definitely be held responsible for the worst environmental disaster caused by an oil spill in American history.
When oil is spilled or leaked into the ocean and other waterways, it spreads very quickly with the help of wind and currents. When oil starts mixing in water, it's composition can change and turn into a sticky mousse-like substance that clings to whatever it comes in contact with. Many marine animals don't know how to avoid it and some fish may even be attracted to it as it can resemble food. The many harmful effects on animals coming into contact with oil include hypothermia, drowning, toxic ingestion, and compromised breeding functions.
Even once the oil appears to have dissipated, it can still lurk beneath the surface of beaches and the sea bed, severely affecting marine organisms that burrow, such as crabs, for literally decades. These burrowing creatures are also food for other animals, so the cycle of poisoning continues for many years affecting not only wildlife but the careers of people who make their living on the harvesting of tuna, swordfish, crabs, shrimp and more. Almost every aspect of a marine and coastal environment is adversely affected by an oil spill. The closer the spill occurs to the shoreline, the more pronounced the damage will be due to coastal zones being home to more concentrated and diverse populations of marine, bird and animal life. Tourism and the sale of real estate is also greatly affected.
The harmful effects of the BP disaster and others like the Exxon Valdez oil spill are dwarfed in comparison to the amount of pollution that we as individuals cause every day!