The Deepwater Horizon accident took place on April 20, 2010. This was after the explosion of an offshore drilling rig in the U.S waters on the Gulf of Mexico. The accident led to the spilling of large volumes of oil into the waters on the Gulf of Mexico, thereby endangering aquatic lives. Several people also died due to the accident, while others sustained serious injuries. An estimated 4.9 million barrels of crude oil leaked into the ocean, polluting the environment.
The oil spill continued for 84 days until a leaking cap was put in place. The Deepwater Horizon explosion was the largest and longest oil spill in the history of the U.S, not to mention that it had severe effects on the environment on the Gulf of Mexico’. Following the accident, U.S Barrack Obama president issued a ban on deepwater oil drilling. However, the ban was lifted after six months.
Different parties such as the BP Company, the State and the Federal governments were involved in efforts to curtail the damage. The oil spill also led to the compromise of various environmental regulations and laws. The following paper describes the Deepwater Horizon accident on the Gulf of Mexico. In addition, it also highlights the economical and environmental impacts of the oil spill, along with the impact of the accident on existing environmental regulations and laws.
The Deepwater Horizon accident
On April 20, 2010, tragic events took place on the Gulf of Mexico in which 11 people died on the spot while another seven were seriously injured. The incident later came to be recognized as the Deepwater Horizon accident, after the vessel was blown out following the explosion of a Deepwater Horizon petroleum-drilling rig.
This was followed by a series of explosions and fires that spread rapidly. On 22nd April, the rig sank into the water resulting in an oil spill that spread to the Gulf of Mexico’s coastline. The oil flowed from the rig for a period of 87 days and in the process, 4.9 million barrels of oil were discharged to the U.S waters. Large amounts of hydrocarbons and carbons were also released into the waters after the emergency system failed to disconnect from the vessel.
In a bid to prevent large volumes of oil from spreading to the nearby wetlands and estuaries, use was made of skimmer ships and floating booms. However, on September 19, 2010, the leak was stopped after a cap was fitted into the well, thus preventing any further oil spread and spills. Although there were reports that the capping was not fully achieved, a report by UNEP (2010) states that “British Petroleum (BP) succeeded in fitting a tight sealing containment cap, which stemmed the leak” (P.1).
A report released by the Center for Biological Diversity (2010) shows that more than one thousand miles of shoreline were affected by the oil spill. This affected marine life and caused health problems to people living around the Gulf of Mexico and other regions. Over 2 million gallons of dispersants had to be sprayed on the spilled oil in a bid to disperse the oil and ease up the clean up activity on the Gulf of Mexico.
However, the dispersants were toxic to marine life (Center for Biological Diversity, 2010). The report by the Center for Biological Diversity further indicates that more than half of the oil spilled remained at the bottom of the ocean where it continued to endanger marine species.
Both the State and the Federal governments assisted BP to undertake investigations on the safety of onshore oil drilling (Hagerty & Ramseur, 2013). After the investigations, the BP Company was blamed for the accident on account of an ineffective and insufficient safety system. After the incident, the Environmental Protection Agency announced temporary ban on BP (Hagerty & Ramseur, 2013).
Environmental and Economical Impacts
Oil spills are a real threat to marine life in oceans and on coastal; areas. Also, plants in the coastline are affected by chemical components found in crude oil. Based on this line of thought, marine species in the Gulf of Mexico were largely affected by oil spill from the Deepwater Horizon accident (Hagerty & Ramseur, 2010). Marine species such as whales, sharks, sea turtles, crustaceans, mollusks, birds, are different types of species were affected by the accident.
For example, a study conducted by the Center for Biological diversity (2010) showed that “82,000 birds; about 6,000 sea turtles; nearly 26,000 marine mammals, including dolphins; and an unknown numbers of fish and invertebrates may have been harmed by the spill and its aftermath” (p.1). Since the oil spilled contained high levels of methane, dead zones were created, which suffocated marine life. Moreover, the level of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (composed of chemicals and carcinogens) were increased, thus endangering marine and human life.
The oil spill mainly affected the economy of BP and that of the Gulf of Mexico. Fines and penalties were imposed on BP, not to mention the claim payments the company had to pay the victims of the accident. Other costs that the company incurred included spill response and containment costs, as well as the cost of the damaged Mobile Offshore Drilling Unit.
Moreover, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) temporarily banned BP from undertaking any further oil exploration contracts from the U.S government (Hagerty & Ramseur, 2010). This was a major economical and financial setback to the company. BP has since lost its market share to its competitors. The Deepwater Horizon accident affected the supply and price of oil (Hagerty & Ramseur, 2010). Although the shortage was short lived, the economic impact cannot be ignored.
Prior to the Deepwater Horizon accident, more than 50,000 Louisiana residents were employed by the company (Hagerty & Ramseur, 2010). However, after the accident, local officials estimated that most of these jobs were lost thus affecting the economic and social welfare of local residents. Other commercial activities affected by the oil spill include tourism in the region, the fishing sector, and recreational fisheries sector.
Restaurants and hotels operating in the region were also affected as the region was closed for cleanup activities (Hagerty & Ramseur, 2010). However, the cleanup activities, created employment for the local people although this was a short lived exercise. Owing to changes in consumer perceptions and attitudes on the safety of seafood on the Gulf of Mexico following the oil spill, there was a decline in the sale of seafood in the region.
Impact of the accident on existing environmental regulations and laws
There are multiple environmental laws that have been implemented by both State and Federal governments to protect the environment. Some of rules and regulations that affected by the Deepwater Horizon accident include the Clean Water Act (CWA) which prohibits pollution of the U.S waters, and the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) which is concerned with hazard dispensation in oceans (Hagerty & Ramseur, 2010).
In 1973, the International Maritime Organization enacted the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships which according to Smith (2009) prohibits “all oil tankers, cruise ships, general cargo and container vessels, tugs, ferries, yachts and small pleasure craft from releasing substances that would pollute the marine environment” (p. 1481). Although this environmental regulation lacks regulatory provisions to address the Deepwater Horizon, the law was nonetheless affected.
Another regulation violated by the accident was the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) as “UNCLOS directly addresses international regulation of fixed, offshore drilling platforms like the Deepwater Horizon, and thus is the most comprehensive, current international treaty for oil pollution” (Smith 2009, p. 1484). Therefore, the Deepwater Horizon accident not only impacted on U.S’ laws but also affected the international environmental laws and regulation.
Fiorino (2006) observes that “current environmental protection system cannot deliver healthy and sustaining world that Americans want” (p.9). This has been attributed to designing and implementing environmental statuses and regulations, which addresses current issues.
For example, most of the present environmental regulations and laws do not support or keep up with the changing oil drilling technologies. Moreover, most of these regulations were implemented in the 1980s and have never been reviewed. Agencies responsible for gas and oil drilling, especially the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management was limited in their response to the accident as they lacked adequate capacity to deal with such an accident (Norse & Amos, 2010).
The paper has provided a description of Deepwater Horizon accident in the Gulf of Mexico, highlighted the economical and environmental impacts of the oil spill and accident, as well as the impact of the accident on existing environmental regulations and laws.
The Deepwater Horizon accident took place after the Deepwater Horizon petroleum-drilling rig exploded. A series of explosions and fires spread rapidly, causing the rig to sink in the U.S waters. The oil spill lasted for a period of 84 days before the well was capped to stop further spillage. Oil spills and accidents significantly harm marine organisms and the economy as well.
The oil spill had a negative impact on the marine ecosystem in the region. From an economic point of view, the oil spill mainly affected the economies of BP and the Gulf of Mexico. Jobs were lost even as BP incurred extra expenditure which included penalties and fines, claims payment, containment, and spill response costs. Commercial and leisure fishing, restaurants and hotels operating in the region were also affected as the region was closed for the cleanup exercise.
Some of environmental regulations and laws affected by the oil spill include the Clean Water Act (CWA), the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), and the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships, and the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). The Deepwater Horizon accident on the Gulf of Mexico is a reminder to all environmental protection agencies on the importance of new environmental regulations and laws to safeguard the environment.
Center for Biological Diversity. (2010). Catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico:
Devastation persists. Web.
Fiorino, D. J. (2006). The new environmental regulation. Cambridge, Mass: MIT.
Hagerty, C. L., & Ramseur, J. L. (2010). Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill: recent activities and ongoing developments. Congressional Research Service, 1-12.
Hagerty, C. L., & Ramseur, J. L. (2013). Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill: Selected Issues for Congress. Congressional Research Service, 1-48.
Norse, E., & Amos, J. (2010). Impacts, perception, and policy implications of the Deepwater Horizon oil and gas disaster. Environmental Law Reporter, 1-16.
Smith, M. (2009). The Deepwater Horizon disaster: An examination of the spill’s impact on the gap in international regulation of oil pollution from fixed platforms. Emory International Law Review, 25(3), 1477-1516.
UNEP. (2010). The Gulf of Mexico oil spill: The world’s largest accidental offshore oil. Web.
Figure 1: A diagram of the oil spill from space (Source: NASA’s Tella 2010)
Figure 2: A diagram of an underwater camera depicting the oil escaping (Source: PNAS 2010).
Figure 3: A diagram showing how chemical dispersants were injected into the well to break the oil’s buoyancy (Source: BP; United States Coast Guards 2010)