Remembering the BP oil spill, a disaster of historic proportions
On April 20, 2010, Transocean Ltd.’s Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded and sank, killing 11 men and sending oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico. The spill, which sent tar balls onto beaches all along the Gulf, was lethal to birds and marine life and, by extension, the seafood and tourism industries. By the time the BP well was sealed Sept. 9 — more than four months after the explosion — nearly 206 million gallons had been spilled into the Gulf of Mexico in what would go down in history as the world’s biggest environmental disaster.
On the surface, everything might seem normal — the Gulf looks good, for instance, and people are eating Louisiana seafood again — but no one should be deceived. An Associated Press survey of scientists, taken on the spill’s fifth anniversary, said the Gulf was less healthy than it was before the calamity, but scientists were mixed on the spill’s long-term impacts on the Gulf’s ecosystem.
- Everything about the spill was huge, from the amount of oil that gushed into the Gulf to the money involved in the aftermath. The federal government agreed to a sum of $20.8 billion to settle civil claims between BP and federal, state and local governments. And U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier ruled that attorneys who entered economic and medical-claims settlements were entitled to $555.2 million.
- While the oil poured forth, “spill cams” mounted on robots working on the seabed to cap the flow broadcast images to computer screens and CNN viewers around the world.
- The spill inspired a movie, “Deepwater Horizon,” starring Mark Wahlberg, Kate Hudson, Kurt Russell and John Malkovich. Peter Berg directed. Its U.S. premiere was held Sept. 19, 2016, at the Orpheum Theater. According to IMDb.com, the movie cost about $110 million to make, and it grossed nearly $118.2 million worldwide.
- A 5,250-gallon oil spill discovered in Bay Long — part of Bayou Barataria — in September 2016 was caused by a contractor working on a project aimed at restoring an area affected by the BP oil spill, federal officials said. An excavating marsh buggy working in the area to rebuild Chenier Ronquille Island accidentally cut through a pipeline, releasing the oil.
- In the summer of 2010, Jimmy Buffett gave a free concert on the beach in Gulf Shores, Ala. Buffett, who grew up on the Alabama and Mississippi coasts, staged the event to lift people’s spirits and to draw them back to the beach, which had been hit by oil for weeks.
- In September 2016, artist Jason Kimes installed a multi-sculpture work on the Elysian Fields Avenue neutral ground consisting of 11 figures standing in a circle. The figures were meant to memorialize the 11 men killed in the rig explosion.
- Even though Hurricane Isaac was more dramatic, Barataria Bay wetlands coated with oil from the 2010 spill eroded more in the first two years after that disaster than those affected only by Isaac’s waves and storm surge in 2012, according to a study published in November 2016 in the American Geophysical Union’s Geophysical Research Letters.
- Patches of marsh grass that had at least a 90 percent or greater coating of oil from the BP spill sustained dramatic erosion rates, according to a 2016 study. They didn’t recover, one of the scientists involved in the project said, but marshes with less of an oil coating might make a comeback, given time. The study in Nature Scientific Reports was conducted by researchers from Duke University and the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.
The BP oil spill had a one-two impact. There’s no denying the force of images of the exploding platform, and the birds with oil-slicked wings that washed ashore after the catastrophe, to say nothing of the memory of the 11 men who lost their lives in the storm. But the spill — the worst environmental disaster in the country’s history — is having a lingering impact, too, as studies have shown the damage the chemicals in the oil did to the fragile coastline. In the process, it has provided a wake-up call — and, perhaps, a summons to action — to those concerned over the perils of coastal erosion.