Massive Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico – One of the Worst U.S. Ecological Disasters

May 03, 2010 1188 users 0 Category: Oil Spill

What Happened?

April 2010 - A massive oil spill happened in the Gulf of Mexico (starting on April 22, 2010) from a blown-out oil well on the ocean floor (about 5,000 feet deep under the ocean surface). The well exploited by the oil company BP is located deep into the ocean off the Louisiana coast. Massive amounts of oil (up to 5,000 barrels which equals 210,000 Gallons) extracted daily through the well operation are now freely pumped into the ocean as it seems to be problematic to shut off the well. Basically, the unfavorable conditions on the ocean floor along with the extremely high pressure of the extracted oil were impeding the attempts (using underwater robots) to shut off the well, while the oil continued to be pumped out into the ocean. It looks like the oil will continue to be spilled freely, causing water pollution, until another solution is implemented (i.e., covering the well with a giant inverted funnel that will capture the oil and channel it into a tanker ship at the surface). This spill is already considered the second worst oil spill ever after the Exxon Valdez spill in 1989 in Alaska. However, depending when the well is successfully shut down, it has the potential to become worse than the other spill. At the same time, considering that this spill threatens to affect highly populated areas, it may already be seen as one of the worst oil spills ever.

How is the Spill Behaving?

Once released in the ocean water at the bottom, oil is moving up until it reaches the surface of the ocean due to the release pressure. Once it reaches the surface of the water, the oil floats on water because it has a density below that of water (in other words it is lighter than water). Thus, the oil will cover the water surface expanding over large areas. The spilled oil looks thus created a sheen of "rainbow" colors on the surface of the ocean. Obviously, once on the water surface, due to currents and weather conditions, the spilled oil sheen is transported away. What is of great concern is that the spilled oil is heading toward the shores of Louisiana and other states in proximity, washing up the wildlife refuges and seafood grounds in the area.

What U.S. States May be Affected?

Apart from Louisiana shores, other states may be affected including Mississippi, Alabama and Florida.

How Are the Residents Affected?

The residents of the listed states (especially those who live in the proximity of the shores) may be affected in a large variety of ways, including:

  • Through breathing potentially contaminated air - some residents from coastal cities (e.g., New Orleans) already reported to have smelled sulfur compounds from oil - usually when such compounds reach the smell level, they may pose a threat to human health. Additionally, with all the controlled burning activities, the general air quality may be damaged, too.
  • Through consuming contaminated wildlife - including fish, seafood and/or bird or other higher predators in the chain food; some of the oil compounds are bioaccumulative (e.g., a class of aromatic hydrocarbons known with the generic name of PAHs - polyaromatic hydrocarbons) - this means that those compounds will keep accumulating in living organism that take them from contaminated water; finally the compounds may reach concentrations in the animal or fish tissue much greater than in the ocean. Subsequently, by consumption of contaminated meat humans could be exposed to high amounts of pollutants (it is like extracting and concentrating pollutants from water and deliver them to human bodies). This is why it is critical that all fishing and seafood collecting activities cease in the affected areas ? which triggers other unfortunate economic effects on the residents (see below).
  • By not being able to fish in the area anymore - the people whose jobs consisted in fishing will likely be affected including the whole state economy.
  • By not being able to enjoy the seashores - for obvious reason, swimming or bathing in contaminated or potentially contaminated shore water as well as other coastal activities should come at high risks to inhabitants and will probably be prevented at least until all testing denote no risks.
  • By diminished home and land values in affected coastal cities - especially in coastal cities, the property values will probably decline substantially at least until the situation is resolved and everything gets back to normal which may take a while.
  • Economically the whole affected states may suffer by the loss in tourism and collection/commercialization of fish and seafood, which is quite prevalent in state such as Louisiana
  • Decreasing stock values - shares of BP and Transocean continue to decrease as investors fear raises with the significant clean up costs as well as other costs (e.g., from lawsuits).

Note: If you live in one of the affected coastal cities and believe you could be affected or have been already affected by the spill, please contact us. We will try our best to provide additional specific information applicable to your case and seek adequate legal support, as you may be entitled to compensation for your loss/damage.

Additionally, it is not clear yet how the spill may interfere with shipping channels in the area that may affect crude oil imports into the U.S. Yet so far, there are no sign that this activity is affected.

Protective measures

Protective booms. The authorities (U.S. Coast Guard) deployed protective booms along the coast of Louisiana and other potentially affected states in order to capture the spilled oil before it reaches the shore. Dozens of ships and aircrafts are already deployed in what seems to be one of the largest spill containment efforts.

Controlled Burning. The controlled burning of the oil sheen is also an alternative. Although it may be difficult to deal with the large areas affected, it may provide some local relief.

Final Solution. Ultimately, a solution is sleeked to cut the source of the oil (the broken underwater well). BP intends to cover the well with a giant inverted funnel that will capture the oil and channel it into a tanker ship at the surface. However four weeks or more may be needed to implement such solution. In between oil continues to be spilled and consequences to humans, wildlife and environment may be hard to predict.

One thing is sure though: this spill has put on hold for the time being (at least until the review of the current spill) Obama plans to expand off-shore drilling. Maybe it is "a wake-up call" from Mother Nature to prevent other catastrophic events, of which much can be learnt by all of us!

ON-LINE RESOURCES - EPA Monitoring of Events and Information Updates

EPA has established a webpage (http://www.epa.gov/bpspill/) dedicated to the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in order to provide updates on:

  • Air quality and monitoring across Gulf of Mexico Coastline
  • Sampling plans across the South and Southeast including water samples
  • EPA response to BP spill