Deepwater Horizons Poisonous Legacy | The Jackal

19 Apr 2011

Deepwater Horizons Poisonous Legacy

Tomorrow marks a date that will be forever remembered as a dark day in human history. The explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon as it was drilling a test well off Louisiana's coast on the 20th April 2010, will leave its mark in the Gulf of Mexico for centuries to come. Two days after the initial explosion, the rig sank into the ocean and left a poisonous legacy that should never be forgotten.

So what's happened to all those petrochemicals over the past year and what effect has Mother Nature had on the millions of gallons of dispersants and plumes of oil and gas, as much as a mile beneath the sea's surface? The answer is complex with many differing views. Considering the money that is at stake, it's no wonder that we have such a wide variance of opinions. The answer carries policy implications for BP and other oil companies that operate in deep seas. However such companies have an inherent interest in downplaying the spill's long-term legacy, something BP's critics are trying to highlight.

A $20 billion fund was set up by BP to compensate those most affected by the catastrophe. But what price to put on livelihoods that rely on an ecosystem that has been irreparably damaged. Whatever compensation is metered out is cold comfort for Gulf residents who saw their livelihoods decimated by the spill. The coastal economies of Florida, Mississippi, Alabama and especially Louisiana might never recover. Being that BP is fighting many claims, litigation will take years to make its way through federal courts in New Orleans and beyond as plaintiffs seek to extract damages from London-based BP, which owned the Macondo well and the Swiss-based Transocean who owned the rig.

Meanwhile, one year on from the largest spill in U.S. history, the ocean is still polluted, wetlands are clogged and wildlife is endangered. Sea turtles were hit hard. The western population of the bluefin tuna, which breeds only in the northern Gulf, was breeding just as oil spewed out of the broken well head. This year, 153 bottle-nosed dolphin carcasses have washed up on Gulf coasts: 65 of those were infants: new born, stillborn or born prematurely, according to figures from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Many scientists are finding that their studies are being impeded by civil and criminal investigations into the spill and its effect. For instance, researchers looking into a spate of dolphin deaths that may be linked to oil-fouled seas were told by the National Marine Fisheries Service to keep quiet about their findings. "Because of the seriousness of the legal case, no data or findings may be released, presented or discussed outside the UME (unusual mortality event) investigation.

Studies conducted by the University of Georgia's Samantha Joye and her colleagues tell a scary tale: During diving expeditions on the Alvin submersible vessel, they found that areas of the seafloor around the spill site were covered with an oily muck and littered with dead organisms.

Has the American government and oil industries learned anything from the disaster? One must conclude that they have not. With more deep sea oil drilling than ever before using the same old technology that has been shown to fail, we can probably expect another similar oil spill in terms of quantity and impact in the near future.