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Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill’s Environmental Effect Research Paper


Abstract

Deep-water horizon oil spillage that took place in the Gulf of Mexico had a massive impact on the environment. The spillage caused a massive pollution on the high seas, on air and on land. Statistics from various relevant authorities shows that this spillage massively affected aquatic lives, besides other destroying the ecosystem at the sea and along the beaches. Health experts have also confirmed that workers at this plant were exposed to benzene among other toxins. Benzene is a very dangerous chemical and those who are exposed to it may suffer serious medical consequences. The research looks at the statistics of those who were affected by this spillage, and how it was finally resolved.

Introduction

The Deepwater Horizon oil spillage, also known as BP oil spillage is the worst oil spillage to have ever occurred in the history of this industry. According to the reports by Steffy (2011), the oil spillage started in April 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico and would last for 87 days as it was finally sealed on July 15 the same year. The report says that the problem started when the Deepwater Horizon- a floating mobile drilling ring- exploded due to excessive pressure. This drilling ring was located in Mississippi Canyon in the Gulf of Mexico. British Petroleum was the principal operator of Deepwater Horizon. It is reported that on the fateful day of April 20, 2010, at about 9.45 at night, methane gas emanating from the well, rose to the drilling ring causing a lot of pressure on the ring. At this point, the gas was ignited which caused a massive explosion, engulfing the entire platform. When this took place, it is reported that about 126 members of the crew were onboard the Deepwater Horizon doing various operational tasks. Most of the members on board were employees of Transocean Company, which was contracted to operate the driller and a few employees of the British Petroleum Company. All those who were on board were thrown into the water when the explosion occurred. Eleven of the crew members were never found even after a search team was commissioned for almost a week. Others were rescued and treated for various injuries.

Following this explosion, a massive oil spillage began, and it is estimated that the flow rate was about 62,000 barrels in a day. This was a massive amount of oil being released into the water. When the spillage was finally controlled, reports indicate that about 5 million barrels, an equivalent of 780,000 miters cube of oil had been released in the deep waters of this region. This makes it the worst oil spillage in history. The graph below shows the rate of flow for the first nine days.

Rate of flow
Rate of flow

The impact of this oil spillage was massively destructive. The instant impact of this accident was the death of the eleven people who were on board this ill-fated drilling machine, and injuries of several others. The impact on the waters in this region, the coastal line in Mississippi, and other coastal states in the United States, the marine life, among other economic activities done on this water and other places affected directly by this is yet to be given inaccurate terms because more discoveries are still coming out. This research will be based on this Deepwater Horizon oil spillage and its impact on the environment.

Discussion

The environment is very delicate and needs proper protection for it to be sustainable for the current and future generations. It is true that the main enemy of the environment in the industrial sector. Various industrial activities have had a massive negative impact on the environment in various ways. From the smokes in the industrial sector to the effluents, logging, e-wastes, plastic wastes, radioactive substances among other environmental pollutants, the industrial sector has been considered as posing serious threats to the environment. Efforts to moderate the impact of this sector on the environment have yielded little fruits. The Kyoto Protocol and many other conventions before and after this have failed to limit operations of this sector in favor of the environment.

Environmental hygiene has become an important factor to be considered by any company. It is the responsibility of every company to ensure that during its operations, the environment should always remain their number one priority. They have every responsibility to ensure that the environment is protected from damage. Industrial hygiene involves managing the industrial carbon release among other pollutants. The events that took place on this particular accident involving the Deepwater Horizon oil spill is a clear demonstration of how destructive industrial activities can be to the environment. This is a clear message that any small negligence or technical hitch in managing industrial operations can lead to serious negative effects to the environment and to people. The graph below shows how this oil was cleaned up.

The Cleanup (in millions of gallons)
The Cleanup (in millions of gallons)

ResultsThis data is discussed further in this report. In order to bring more understanding to some of the impact this accident had on the environment, the analysis below would be important.

The impacts of the deepwater horizon oil spill vary with the amount of oil that spills and the point at which the oil is generated. This is to say that at the point of oil leakage, the concentration of oil in water will be very high and the impacts at the point will be significantly higher as compared to other parts of the sea. As the water flows, the concentration reduces and although still the impacts will be felt, they will be of a lesser degree. Although the leakage is in the deep regions, the impact will be felt at all the levels of the sea from deep within the sea to the top. This is so because oil is generally lighter than water, hence as it moves from deep the sea to the top and therefore its impacts in the water environment are felt. The impacts of the deepwater horizon oil spill can either be direct or indirect. These impacts can be classified into the following categories.

Impact of Deepwater Horizon Oil Spillage on Water

The impacts of the oil spill on water may not necessarily be seen or felt. However, the fact is that the seawater will be affected. The effect will not only be on the water in the sea but it will also be felt in the other surrounding water bodies which the seawater may likely flow into and especially the groundwater sources. The spill contains various components including chemicals. Its spillage will be of great impact to constituents of the seawater. This means that the normal components of the seawater will be altered, and this will obviously interfere with the chemical and the physical components of the seawater. The temperature of the spillage and that of the seawater varies. This means when the spillage takes place in the sea the normal temperature conditions of the seawater will change and this will, in turn, alter the usual operations that take place in the sea at the normal seawater temperatures.

According to Farrell (2011), the presence of oil below the sea surface leads to an increase of the microbes. This again alters the components and the normal microbial activities in the sea. Water is denser than oil. Therefore, oil floats and covers the entire water surface of the sea. The spillage forms a layer that does not allow aeration to take place within the sea environment. This changes the normal working environment in the seawater, a situation that has been proven to pose serious negative impacts in the seawater environment due to the depletion of oxygen gas in the water. In addition, oil is believed to contain a substantial amount of methane that adds up to the constituents of the seawater altering its normal and conducive environment for various activities. In addition, the presence of oil in the seawater will change the normal taste and even color of the water that may make it unfavorable for many sea plants and organisms.

Impact of Deepwater Horizon Oil Spillage on Marine Life

The major part of the seawater that is affected is the microorganisms and plantations in the sea. Presence of methane in oil and the formation of the thick layer in form of a blanket that does not allow both air and oxygen to pass through, suffocates and denies the organisms in the seawater oxygen and light. For any living organism, oxygen is vital for metabolism purposes failure to which an organism ceases to live. This scholar points out that for the good growth of any plant, light is crucial. This means that when the sea environment is deprived of oxygen and light, there is the death of both the microorganisms and plantations respectively in the sea. Fish species within the sea are lost and any plantation within is also lost. Some of the tea plantations that were affected are the mangrove trees, the marsh grass, and the sea urchins among others. An example of the fish species that has been reported to have been adversely affected and died out of the oil spillage includes whale and sharks. In total, the deep-water horizon oil spill has threatened over 30 fish species in the sea. Apart from the fish species, several mammals are reported to have died out of the spillage in the sea. Among the dead bodies of the mammals were over 30 dolphins.

The death of these dolphins is indirectly linked with the presence of oil within the sea ecosystems. This is because when the cause of the death of these dolphins was carried out, the animals were found to be anemic, underweight and with liver diseases with a considerably low levels of metabolism and immune responsible hormones. Many dolphin carcasses were discovered at the point where the oil spillage took place in the sea. According to Unita (2011), this effect occurred through the dolphins’ food chain. This shows that something had gone amiss within their ecosystem and this was mainly the oil spillage issue. This scholar explains that since the problem is through the food chain, the problem may take a longer time to curb. It may take several years to rectify the problem and to get the exact level of the damage caused by the accident. This is due to the fact that some of the affected organisms may not be discovered and their exact number that was alive before the incidence is not known. The death of this organism cost a lot to a country’s economy. For example, the death of fish has a great impact to the fishery sector. It also affects the tourism industry in one way or the other through the death of mammals that forms part of the point of tourists’ attraction within the country.

Impact of Deepwater Horizon Oil Spillage on People

It is a fact that that human being would later feel all the negative impact of this oil spillage in various ways in what is always referred to as the ripple effect. However, this accident had some direct negative impact on people. As was mentioned in the introductory part of this paper, this accident took place when there were about 126 crew members that were onboard the vessel. This explosion threw all of them in water, and eleven people have never been traced to this day. It is believed that they perished during this accident. A number of crewmembers also sustained varying degrees of injuries during this explosion but fortunately, they were rescued and given appropriate medical attention. The serious impact that this accident would have on people involved the affected economic income. The following are some of the instant negative effect that was felt by people due to this oil spillage.

Effect on other sectors of the economy

The effect of this spillage had a massive effect on various other sectors of the economy. The oil spill reduced the amount of petroleum energy available in the countries that British Petroleum practice. It is estimated that about 5 million barrels of oil were spilled during this accident. This energy went into wastage. The energy would have been used to drive the industry for a very long period. According to Birkin (2011), the workforce that was sent to fight this menace took almost three complete months. This workforce would have been used to deliver service in other sectors of the economy. This in effect reduced the living standards of the affected families.

This oil spillage had a negative impact on agriculture. According to King (2010), most of the reports that detailed the impact of this oil spillage did not consider how agriculture was affected. However, this scholar says that this oil spillage had negative impacts on agriculture, especially along the coastlines. It took time for the oily substance to reach the shore, but it finally did, and it was in large volumes. At the shore, the oily substances were easily swept to the farm by air current. This was a consistent occurrence, and it took time to realize that the effect could affect farm products. However, it is a fact that the oil finally found its way on the farms in large quantities.

This was made worse by the fact that the farmers never realized that their farms had been affected by this catastrophic event. This resulted in a situation where farmers never made any measures to protect their farms from the effect of this spillage. Attention was on the effect of this spillage on water, and it took long before farmers came to realize that this incident would affect them directly. The oily dust was swept to the farms in large quantities, and when it rained, the oil found its way into the soil. This killed various microbes that are very important in the soil. This oil also reduced the aeration of the soil. This reduced the productivity of these farms. When oil finds its way into the soil, it may take a while before it can be eliminated. This means that it will take some time before these farms can gain their productivity once again. It may also cost the farmers a lot if they decide to use other means to ensure that oil is eliminated from their farms.

According to the reports by CDC (2013), dangerous chemicals such as benzene affected workers who were within the plant when the explosion took place. This had negative consequences on their health, especially given the long time it took before they were given proper medication. Another group that was also affected by benzene was the individuals who were responsible for the clean-up process. It took several days to handle this situation. Those who took part were exposed to contaminated air, and the inhaled benzene among other poisonous chemicals such as ethylbenzene, toluene, naphthalene, and xylene.

Effect on the Quality of Air

According to Ramseur (2011), air is the most important gift of nature. Air is important as it supports life, and should always be protected. However, most of the activities that human beings undertake in the environment always have a serious negative impact on the quality of air. The Deepwater Horizon oil spillage had a massive negative impact on air. It started during the explosion of the driller. When this drilling machine exploded, the air around this place was polluted with particles of oil. The continuous flow of oil made a thick layer of oil to float on a large area of the sea. This layer of oil had direct contact with air and particles of oil especially petrol easily dissolve into the air. This scholar says that when petrol is exposed to air for some time, it easily is dissolved into the air because of its light particles. Other petroleum substances like methane dissolve in air even at a faster rate. As was stated previously, it took 87 days to bring this massive oil spillage to a stop. This means that for the first 87 days of this accident, more layer of oil was being created on the sea. This meant that more air was getting in contact with this soluble poisonous substance. After the first 87 days, it came a time for cleaning the sea. This took several months to complete.

This means that during the time when British Petroleum Company and other responsible stakeholders were making efforts to clean the sea, the layer of oil that was still on the sea was still contaminating air. Given the fact that the layer of oil finally reached the shore of Mississippi, Alabama, Texas and other coastal states of the United States, this contaminated air moved freely to the mainland. The particles of oil carried in the air would find their way to the leaves of trees, grass and other vegetation. This affected the vegetation in two ways. First, when these oily particles settled on the leaves, they blocked the stomata, the only channel through which a plant can get nutrients (carbon dioxide) and eliminate waste products. This is a direct way of saving these plants, making them die a natural death. The second effect of this oil when it settles on leaves is that it changes the color of the leaf to black. It covers the green pigment that is responsible for the synthesis of food using sunlight. The following table shows data on the contamination of water and finally on air due to the spillage.

Location Analysis

Metal PAH/VOC/SVOC Mixture
(Aquatic Benchmark)
Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) Semivolatile Organic Compounds (SVOC) Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAH)
Total Pre
Impact
Post
Impact
Total Pre
Impact
Post
Impact
Total Pre
Impact
Post
Impact
Total Pre
Impact
Post
Impact
Total Pre
Impact
Post
Impact
Samples Analyzed 1296 107 1189 279 18 261 1298 109 1189 1296 106 1190 1299 109 1190
Samples Not Exceeding Benchmarks 1293 106 1187 256 18 238 1297 109 1188 1295 106 1189 1298 109 1189
Samples Exceeding the Chronic Aquatic Benchmark 52 6 46 23 0 23 N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
Samples Exceeding the Acute Aquatic Benchmark 3 0 3 12 0 12 N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
Samples Exceeding Human Health Benchmarks 0 0 0 N/A N/A N/A 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0

Source: (EPA 2013)

Another serious effect of this oil spillage on air was the way it was controlled. The process of cleaning the sea never considered the impact it would have on the environment. According to Freudenburg (2011), the British Petroleum decided to use controlled fire method to eliminate oil on the surface of the water. Burning of this surface oil took some time and it took place over a large area in the deep sea. The process of burning this oil would release carbon directly into the air. Putting about 3 million barrels of oil on fire would release a massive amount of carbon into the air. This contaminated air would move into the atmosphere, and this would damage the ozone layer. This is besides another negative effect that carbon has on plants, animals, structures and on human beings. This clearly demonstrates a chain of damage this spillage had on the environment.

Offshore effects

According to Hagerty (2010), the oil spillage completely changed the environment along the coastal strip in the regions that were affected. It was a negative image seeing birds of water covered with oil all over. They lost their beauty as they were given a monotonous black color of oil. It took the effort of wildlife officers to clean these birds so that they could regain their color. The beautiful grass that was along the lake started drying up, leaving the shore with a completely new environment. It was difficult to go into the water with a normal board because the viscosity of this water was changed completely. The beautiful breeze that would come from the lake in the hot afternoon was no longer experienced as things changed. The air that was coming from the lake was contaminated as it contained oil. The life along the coast was completely changed for the worse.

Conclusion

The Deepwater Horizon Oil Spillage has been considered as the worst oil spillage in history. An estimated 5 million barrels of oil were spilled into the deep waters for about 87 days. When the concerned authorities finally stopped the spillage, the damage done on water, air and on land was massive. Living organisms were also affected by this spillage. As shown in this discussion, there was a huge ripple effect following this spillage, including the damage of the ozone layer. The approach taken to control the spillage was also poor. Not only did the process take too long but also resulted in massive emission of carbon into the air.

References

Birkin, D. (2011). Deepwater Horizon oil spill and related issues. New York: Nova Science Publishers.

CDC. (2013). Gulf Oil Spill 2010: Deep Water Horizon Oil Spill Human Health Interim Clinical Guidance. Web.

EPA. (2013). EPA Response to BP Spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Web.

Farrell, C. (2011). The Gulf of Mexico oil spill. Edina: ABDO Publishers.

Freudenburg, W. (2011). Blowout in the Gulf: The BP oil spill disaster and the future of energy in America. Cambridge: MIT Press.

Hagerty, C. (2010). Deepwater Horizon oil spill: Selected issues for Congress. Washington: Congressional Research Service.

King, O. (2010). Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster: Risk, recovery, and insurance implications. Darby: Diane Publishing.

Ramseur, J. (2011). Deepwater Horizon oil spill: The fate of the oil. Washington: Congressional Research Service.

Steffy, L. (2011). Drowning in oil: BP and the reckless pursuit of profit. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Unita, S. (2011). Deep water: The Gulf oil disaster and the future of offshore drilling: report to the President. Washington: National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill.

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IvyPanda. (2020, August 1). Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill's Environmental Effect. Retrieved from https://ivypanda.com/essays/deepwater-horizon-oil-spills-environmental-effect/

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1. IvyPanda. "Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill's Environmental Effect." August 1, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/deepwater-horizon-oil-spills-environmental-effect/.


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IvyPanda. "Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill's Environmental Effect." August 1, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/deepwater-horizon-oil-spills-environmental-effect/.

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IvyPanda. 2020. "Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill's Environmental Effect." August 1, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/deepwater-horizon-oil-spills-environmental-effect/.

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IvyPanda. (2020) 'Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill's Environmental Effect'. 1 August.

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