Last Friday, April 20th, saw the 2nd anniversary of the unprecedented BP Deepwater Horizon explosion and consequent oil spill which has since been hailed the worst offshore spill in US history. The explosion killed 11 people and injured 17 more and resulted in the leak of an estimated 170 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. The BP Deepwater Horizon disaster has inflicted devastating damage on the people and the wildlife of the gulf coast region. The true harm of the disaster is still unknown.
The initial impact saw 16,000 miles of US coastline being affected, including the coasts of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. The National Wildlife Federation estimates that more than 8000 birds, turtles and mammals were found dead or injured in the first six months after the spill. In May 2010 the federal government declared a fisheries disaster for the states of Alabma, Mississipi and Louisianna with initial cost estimates to the fishing industry reaching $2.5 billion. By June 2010 approximately 36% of Federal waters in the Gulf of Mexico had been closed to commercial and recreational fishing in the effected waters. In mid 2011 the last closed area was reopened to commercial and recreational activity.
The long term impacts of the disaster on the environment are truly concerning. The Deepwater Horizon oil disaster occurred at the peak breeding season for many species of fish and wildlife and concerns have been raised as to the number of egg and larval organisms which could have been wiped out by the oil’s toxicity. This loss could result in diminishing populations of those age classes of species which in turn could result in an unbalanced food web. It must be noted that it wasn’t until four years after the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil disaster, which was once labeled the worst offshore spill in US history, that the herring population collapsed and to date has not recovered.
The National Wildlife Federation asserts that despite the oil no longer being visible on the surface significant amounts have been found on the Gulf floor and have been washed into wetlands and onto beaches. The University of South Florida conducted a survey which found that since the oil spill between two and five percent of fish in the Gulf have presented with skin lesions or sores, compared to data from before the spill, when just one-tenth of one percent of fish had any growths or sores. Reports from fisherman have emerged of fish lacking eyes and eye sockets, fish with lesions, fish without covers over their gills and others with large pink masses hanging off their eyes and gills.
The long term impacts of the disaster on the Gulf Coast states economy have also been a point of great concern. The effected states rely heavily on commercial and recreational fishing to sustain their local economics. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in 2008 commercial fisheries brought in $659 million in shellfish and finfish and just over $3 million people took recreational fishing trips in the Gulf that year. The initial cost estimate to the fishing industry was $2.5 billion. Last week BP sealed an out-of-court $7.8 billion settlement with lawyers acting on behalf of thousands of individuals and businesses affected by the oil spill disaster. The Gulf seafood industry is said to receive over $2 billion in compensation for economic loss arising from the oil spill.
The unforunate truth is that the true magnitude of the impact of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill may not be known for years.