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The Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and its Aftermath

Prologue to The The Deepwater Horizon Spill

20 April 2010 began as a day of celebration for The Deepwater Horizon, a 9-year-old offshore semi-submersible drilling rig engaged in drilling a deep exploratory well 18,360 feet (5,600 m) below sea level, in approximately 5,000 feet (1,500 m) of water in the Gulf of Mexico. Located in the Macondo oil prospect in the Mississippi Canyon, a valley in the continental shelf, it was one of the 3,858 oil and gas platforms that dotted the coastline of the five States of the USA bordering the Gulf as on 20 April, 2010 (Figs. 1 & 2). Built by Hyundai Heavy Industries of South Korea, and owned and operated by the Swiss-based offshore-oil-drilling company Transocean, the rig was leased by oil company BP (ex British Petroleum) from March 2008 to September 2013. Visiting senior BP officials had just congratulated them on seven years of accident free operations and a celebration was planned for later that day.

At around 21:45 CDT that night (02:45 UTC, 21 April 2010), a surge of natural gas blasted its way up to the platform, where it ignited, killing 11 and injuring 17 of the 126 crew members onboard. All survivors were rescued by helicopters and boats.

The burning rig capsized and sank on the morning of April 22, bursting the pipeline and allowing oil to discharge into the Gulf. The volume of oil exiting the damaged well—originally underplayed by BP as about 1,000 barrels per day—was thought by U.S. government officials to have touched more than 60,000 barrels per day. By the time the well was capped on 15 July and finally sealed on 19 September 2010, the total discharge was estimated by the concerned US govt. officials at 4.9 million barrels (206 million US gallons; 172 m UK gal; 780,000 m3), making it the worst accidental marine oil spill ever in history (Ramseur and Hagerty, 2013). The total extent of ecological, medical, social and marine damage has yet to be finalized, as is the mindboggling total financial loss that BP and its associates will ultimately bear.

 

Deposits of Crude oil

Crude oil is a complex, naturally occurring liquid mixture containing mostly hydrocarbons, which contains compounds of oxygen, nitrogen and sulfur as well. It is also termed fossil fuel, formed by natural anaerobic decomposition of buried dead organisms, the age of which is typically millions of years, at times exceeding 600 million years. There is a general conception that when it is found under solid ground, that ground will be part of a desert, as is mainly the case today, with most petroleum reserves found in the sands of Saudi Arabia and the Middle East countries.

What is not known is that only a small portion of this crude oil came about as a consequence of decomposing dead organisms buried under solid ground. Most of the crude oil actually migrated to underground locations from under the seas! 70 percent of the earth’s surface is covered by water and the living organisms therein far exceed those on and under solid ground. The undersea organisms comprise of ancient fossilized organic materials, such as zooplankton and algae. Vast quantities of these remains settled to sea or lake bottoms, mixing with sediments and being buried under anoxic conditions. As the number of layers increased with time, their density increased, causing a build up of intense heat and pressure in the lower regions. These conditions changed the organic matter into a waxy material known as ‘kerogen’. Petroleum is formed by the breaking down of large molecules of fats, oils and waxes that contribute to the formation of kerogen.

Because petroleum is a fluid, and also due to continuous geologic tectonic movements, it is able to migrate through the earth as it forms. This migration is slow, over millions of years. Hydrocarbons migrate because oil and gas are less dense than water, so they try to rise toward the Earth’s surface to get above groundwater. Natural gas, being less dense, floats above the oil. This buoyancy tends to drive both oil and gas upwards. Typically, a hydrocarbon system must have a good migration pathway, such as a set of permeable fractures, in order for large volumes of hydrocarbons to move. Oil companies pray for the absence of migration pathways, so that the oil and gaseous bodies become static pools.

Geological surveys look for large pools; extraction from small pools is not cost-effective, given the extremely high rates for leasing deepwater oil rigs (between US$ 426,000 – 714,000 per day) and other working costs. To remain static, the pool or reservoir must be trapped by a non-porous rock formation. The reservoir needs to have a cover of impervious rock that will prevent the passage of hydrocarbon fluids to the surface. This impervious rock covering the reservoir is called a cap rock.

A hot and wet climate is conducive for the growth of large amounts of organisms. If this growth takes place in a shallow sea, the drying out of the environment and evaporation of the sea water leaves behind large deposits of salt. Salt is impervious to hydrocarbon fluids and makes an excellent cap rock. If migration is prevented by a geological folding of subsurface rocks, very large reservoirs are formed. These were precisely the conditions that prevailed for eons in the Middle East, resulting in the enormous deposits of oil found in that region of the world. Again, these are precisely the conditions that prevail in most tropical and subtropical continental shelves. The atmospheric and subsea conditions in the Gulf of Mexico are ideal for oil pools from which the ‘black gold’ can be extracted gainfully. Fig. 2 infra provides ample proof.

How Does an Oil Rig Work?

The extraction of oil, particularly in the case of deep offshore drilling, is a complex process and outside the scope of this article. Only the two major components of any drilling rig, the Drill String and the Blow Out Preventer, BOP, will be discussed, as they are germane to the issue. As will be shown later in this article, a hasty and wrongly assembled drill string compounded by BOP failure was the major cause leading to the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

The Drill StringA drill string consists of the drill pipe, the bottomhole assembly and any other tools used to provide the torque that rotates the drill bit at the bottom of the wellbore. It is enclosed in one or more hollow casings; it is also hollow itself so that drilling fluid can be pumped down through it and circulated back up the annulus (the void between the drill string pipe and the casing/casings). The drilling fluid is a slurry, known as ‘mud’, forced downwards by mud pumps to provide most of the downward pressure required to balance the pressure of the outflow of gas and oil once the drill bit pierces the oil well. In the Deepwater Horizon case, the drill string casing was seven inches in diameter and that of the enclosing (protective) casing 97/8 inches. (See Fig.4 on page 7)

Blow Out PreventerBOPs are safety devices used to prevent uncontrolled flow of liquids and gases during drilling operations. They are large, high-pressure valves that are capable of being remotely controlled, and, in turn, can control pressure levels in the drill string. When the driller closes the valve, a pressure-tight seal is formed at the top of the well, preventing the fluids from escaping. It is not really possible to estimate the pressure inside a well, nor can the exact moment of gas and oil release be predicted while drilling. The sudden release of fluids at very high pressures can lead to what is called a ‘kickback’, which, in turn, can lead to a catastrophe termed a ‘blowout’, of which there are numerous instances. The BOP is usually installed redundantly in stacks and used to seal, control and monitor oil and gas wells. It has to be a failsafe device, to ensure the safety of the members of the crew as also the drilling rig, and for that matter, the well bore itself, which is why its roles are clearly defined. BOPs are of two types, Ram and Annular. Most BOPs in use combine a stack of differently shaped ram blocks topped by an annular version, totaling up to 3-400 tons. Based on their design, they can carry out numerous role-specific tasks, including shearing the drill string in its entirety to prevent a blowout.

Primary Role:

- Confine well fluid to the wellbore.
- Provide means to add fluid to the wellbore.
- Allow controlled volumes of fluid to be withdrawn from the wellbore.

Additional Functions:

- Regulate and monitor wellbore pressure.
- Shut in the well (i.e., seal the annulus between drillpipe and casing).
- ‘Kill’ the well (prevent the flow of raw fluid, or influx, from the reservoir into the wellbore).
- Seal the wellhead (close off the wellbore).
- Sever the casing or drill pipe (in case of emergencies)

Apathy and Complacence on the Part of BP and the US Government?

The mineral rights to drill for oil at Macondo well, located in the United States sector of the Gulf of Mexico about 41 miles (66 km) off the Louisiana coast (Fig. 1), were purchased by BP from the Minerals Management Service’s (MMS) in March 2008. BP was the operator and principal developer of the  Macondo Prospect with a 65 percent share, while 25 percent was owned by Anadarko Petroleum Corporation, and ten percent by MOEX Offshore 2007, a unit of Mitsui.  In the documents submitted to the now defunct MMS, BP stated that they foresaw no specific hazards regarding drilling at the site, as it was only an exploratory operation and if some remotely possible mishap did occur, they were 41 miles (66 km) away from the mainland, which would give them enough time to react to the crisis. Their drilling platform was to be the Transocean Marianas semi-submersible rig. The US Dept. of the Interior exempted BP’s Gulf of Mexico drilling operation from a detailed environmental impact study after concluding that a massive oil spill was unlikely, the first mistake in the chain of events that would reach a head on 20 April 2010.

At the outset, BP had contracted with the American MNC Halliburton for the cement and mudding work on the rig. In November 2009, Hurricane Ida damaged Transocean Marianas to the extent that it had to be replaced. Three months later, the replacement drilling rig, Transocean Deepwater Horizon commenced operations on site- but more than 90 days had been lost. The Dept. of the Interior accepted this replacement without a murmur, not knowing that the MMS had not checked out the replacement rig and its safety mechanisms, an error of omission by the Govt and of commission by BP and Transocean.

All aspects considered, the delay in BP’s overall oil drilling program in the US had been scaled down to about 45 days. Since the task was only to complete its exploration by capping the well it had bored, the rig was to only plug the oil well and separate its riser piping from the wellhead to the rig before moving on to another exploration site. A separate rig would have come later to access the sealed wellhead. The date given for completion was 08 March 2010 . In the oil drilling business, time is a lot of money and the Deepwater Horizon was costing them $500,000 a day.  Since this target was patently impossible to achieve, clandestine short cuts were reportedly being taken to accelerate the process, putting rig and workers’ safety at stake. To make things worse, their BOP was damaged in an accident in March, affecting its efficiency. It is not known whether the BOP was repaired.

Deepwater Horizon’s exploratory drilling had reportedly been troubled by unusually frequent and forceful kickbacks. Only weeks before the fatal explosion, so much gas forced its way up the well bore and onto the rig platform that an emergency freeze was placed on many activities aboard the rig in order to avoid triggering an explosion . Was this due to a malfunctioning BOP? BP, however, paid little heed to these warnings and carried on hard apace. Halliburton noticed these practices and warned BP that its use of cement “was against their best practices.” MMS was also informed and they issued a cautionary notice to BP . Moreover, the Macondo oil well was known as the ‘Well of Hell’.

A few days before the accident, BP drilled the final 1,200 feet of the wellbore 18,360 feet (5,600 m) below sea level, which needed casing. Halliburton went by the book and suggested the appropriate liner/tieback casing that would provide 4 redundant barriers to the outflow. BP ignored the advice and decided on a single liner with fewer barriers that would be faster to install and a great deal cheaper ($7 to $10 million). Amazingly, this unsafe shortcut was approved by MMS without any delay.

In yet another shortcut, BP informed Halliburton that they planned to use only 6 centralizers (cementing equipment) instead of the recommended 21. Halliburton’s advice to clean up the annulus before the cementing task was also ignored, in the main (see Fig.4). Halliburton then went on record, stating that using only 6 centralizers would probably lead to a failure of the cement job. Over the next two days, Deepwater Horizon completed its drilling and the well was being prepared to be cemented. The BOP was tested and reported to be functional; subsequent examination would prove otherwise. The BOP had definitely failed . The cost cutting go-ahead was yet another mistake in the deadly chain.

Halliburton sounded the alarm next day, stating that the well did have a severe gas flow problem. Despite their own findings, they completed cementing of the final production casing string, as desired by BP, yet another error. Early in the morning of the day of the accident, BP engineers reportedly argued over the removal of dense drilling mud from the well bore, replacing it with much lighter sea water . Such a step is taken only after a second cement plug hardens in the piping, a process that takes up to 12 hours and costs $128,000. Until this plug is fully installed, heavy mud is the first line of defense against kickbacks and blowouts . They were presented a fait accompli when BP canceled the US law-mandated cement bond log test. By canceling the cement test, BP paid only $10,000, but added to the list of shortcuts and errors.

Halliburton were using a new type of cement that bonded quickly, but emitted more heat than normal, which could thaw frozen methane gas in the rocks of the well, adding volume and pressure to a kickback if one did develop. Unfortunately for Deepwater Horizon, not only did the kickback develop, it also became a blowout at 2156 hrs. A geyser of seawater erupted onto the rig, shooting 240 feet into the air followed by the eruption of a slushy combination of gas, oil and concrete. All control systems had failed. The operator at the controls was unable to drive the blowout upwards through the gas exhaust column, allowing the highly flammable eruption onto the rig deck, where it ignited and exploded. The BOP failed to respond to frantic commands-how could it? It was unserviceable. 11 people were killed in the firestorm and 27 injured.

All drill bits need a coolant. For deep offshore drilling, the coolant consists of a synthetic-based fluid. These fluids can withstand great heat without breaking down, and the fluid fumes have a toxicity that is much less than an oil-based fluid. When drilling through rock or mud, the bored mud or rock is routed back via the annulus, which spouts a mud-colored exhaust. Hence the term ‘drilling mud’.

The blowout and oil spill on the Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico was caused by a flawed well plan that did not include enough cement between the 7-inch drill string casing and its 9 7/8-inch protection casing. The equally important blowout preventer (BOP) failure was seen secondary to the preceding flawed well plan, even though it failed to function as a damage preventer/ limiter in a blowout after a drill string failure. While waiting for the cement to dry on April 20, the crew began displacing the drilling fluid (“mud”) in the wellbore and riser with sea water before setting a fully tested cement plug, a very hazardous step, as it may have allowed oil and gas to enter it. (See Fig.4b infra).

Schematic Diagrams: Deepwater Horizon Rig Showing Probable Fracture and Cement Block Failure

The Fallout 

Destruction of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Rig:

The oil rig caught fire at 2147 hrs on 20 April 2010, capsized and sank on the morning of April 22, rupturing the pipeline and allowing oil to discharge into the Gulf. Scientists were keen to take a closer look at this fire. Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), the world’s largest private, nonprofit ocean research and engineering organization led the way forward.

Sampling the Source” is a video that shows WHOI’s efforts to understand the scope and impact of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. It describes successful efforts by WHOI scientists to obtain the only samples of oil and gas directly from the broken riser pipe and blow-out preventer and return them to the surface at pressure. Press the Ctrl tab on the keyboard and click the link for the video.

Where Did the Discharge Finally Go?

By the time the well was capped on July 15, 2010 (and finally sealed on 19 September 2010), approximately 4.9 million barrels of oil, (206 million US gallons; 172 m UK gal; 780,000 m3) plus another 2 × 1011 g of hydrocarbon gases had gushed out of the undersea Macondo reservoir and into the Gulf. According to government estimates, a mere 20% of that oil was recovered, either directly from the wellhead or by skimming the sea surface. Another 5% was burned, going up in the air, with some turning into particles that drifted to the seafloor. The vast majority of oil—75%—was neither burned nor recovered. It ended up in four places: dissolved in the water, evaporated into the air, stuck to the coastline, or settled on the seafloor . As for the gas, what was recovered with oil was burned, whereas the rest predominately dissolved in the water column, forming the so-called deep plume.

Tracking and predicting surface oil was a clear priority, even before the extent of the Macondo blowout was known. Within hours of the explosion, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) began providing at least daily guidance to individuals involved in all aspects of the response. The location and amount of oil on the surface of the water varied considerably from day to day. Satellite imagery and images and reports from fixed-wing and helicopter aircraft provided model starting conditions daily. Comparison of results from the ensemble of surface trajectory models allowed the evaluation of forecast uncertainty . Spill rate was calculated at 62,000 ± 10% barrels per day (bpd) at the beginning of the event and 53,000 ± 10% bpd on day 87 at well shut in. The video above tracks the oil slick from Day 1. Combined with the total flow rate and hydrocarbons remaining on the ocean surface, a consistent picture emerged about where the oil went. Only about one-half of the oil and none of the methane gas ever reached the ocean surface.

The Macondo reservoir lies about 4 km below the seafloor at an approximate pressure of 6,000 psi, and at a temperature of 130 °C. As the hydrocarbons moved up the well pipe to the seafloor, pressure and temperature decreased to 2,200 psi and 4 °C respectively, allowing the efflux to separate into oil and gas. (Atmospheric pressure is 14.7 psi). As the oil exited the well into the sea, various portions dissolved, aerosolized into droplets, mixed with water to form gas hydrates, or precipitated as waxes. The heavier compounds sank to the seafloor, but the lighter gas compounds moved up only another 1,500 feet because they were soluble in water and small oil droplets in the plume were not buoyant enough to rise further. The remaining thousands of hydrocarbon compounds that make up oil continued their rise to the surface, where they were skimmed, burned, naturally dispersed through wave action or chemically dispersed; what didn’t evaporate washed into marshes and onto beaches as mousse, better known as tar balls . The odd ball or two still turns up on the various beaches.

Every oil spill in history has carried with it serious damages, both in the short and long term. The Deepwater Horizon is no different. Now that technology is so advanced and ecological concerns so volubly propounded, the probable consequences of a major oil spill can be predicted fairly accurately:

    • Effects on microbial life forms, deep sea organisms, wildlife and the tourism industry.
    • Loss of jobs for those engaged in the seafood industry.
    • Damage to existing life forms, like small fish, shrimps and lobsters, tuna, dolphins and turtles, apart from plankton, algae and coral and other deep sea organisms.
    • Ecological damage, in terms of tinkering with a fragile habitat.
    • Side effects of remedial chemical oil dispersants.
    • Effects on Tourism and business.

Effect on Microbial Life Forms

Analysis of one of the samples collected by WHOI showed that the source Macondo material was 74% saturated hydrocarbons, 16% aromatic hydrocarbons, and 10% polar hydrocarbons (oxygen, nitrogen, and sulfur) . Gulf water contains native hydrocarbon-consuming microorganisms and it was felt that the 1km deep plume would provide these microorganisms a feast to eat, grow, and multiply and ultimately consume the leaked hydrocarbons. While the entire lot of leaked hydrocarbons was not consumed, there was a marked increase in the gulf microbial population, except for one variety called sea squirts that did not survive. One of the giant oil plumes that formed due to the oil spill has been degraded at a much more significant rate than first anticipated. The change is attributed to a previously undiscovered species believed to normally reside at the bottom of deep ocean waters, but catalyzed to multiply by the ocean’s pollution.

Deep-Sea Benthic Footprint of the Deepwater Horizon Blowout

As part of the response to the accident, a scientific team was deployed in fall 2010 to measure potential impacts on the two main deep sea soft-bottom benthic invertebrate  groups: macrofauna and meiofauna. Meiofauna consists of small, waterborne invertebrates that range in size from 0.042 to 0.300 millimeters. The study found that the tremendous biodiversity of meiofauna in the deep-sea area of the Gulf of Mexico studied had been reduced dramatically. Larger organisms, or macrofauna include barnacles, oysters, sponges and mud crabs, among others. The most severe relative reduction of faunal abundance and diversity extended to 3 km from the wellhead in all directions covering an area about 24 km2. This was the area where the gushing oil first fell and continued leaking till capped. Moderate impacts were observed up to 17 km towards the southwest and 8.5 km towards the northeast of the wellhead, covering an area 148 km2. Benthic effects were correlated to total petroleum hydrocarbon and distance to the wellhead. The conclusion was that benthic effects were more likely due to the oil spill, and not natural hydrocarbon seepage. Since the deep sea temperature was a uniform 4°C, it behaved like a refrigerator, preserving the oil that had sunk. Recovery rates in the deep sea were thus likely to be slow, of the order of decades or longer.

The scientists also found that the damaged marine life extended along a narrow corridor, about 23 miles long to the southwest of the wellhead, which was consistent with earlier studies that identified an underwater stream of oil and gas residue, an increase in organisms that eat oil, and measurements of low oxygen that are believed to correspond to the decomposition of those fast-living organisms as they died and sank to the bottom.

Effect on Gulf Seafood Industry

BP’s Deepwater Horizon Blowout saw a marked decline in seafood catches, seriously affecting the seafood industry and those employed in it . Crab catch dropped markedly and no baby crabs were seen. The crabs caught had holes in their shells, other seafood also had deformities. Stone crab harvest dropped off by 75 percent. The state of Louisiana oyster season opened on October 15, but fishermen found little life out there. Only 30 percent of the sea ground for harvesting oysters in the past remained productive. Shrimp was brought in with deformities, including tumors; others lacked eyes. These deformities were attributed to BP’s use of toxic dispersants to sink the spilled oil.

Dr. Ed Cake, a biological oceanographer and a marine biologist, believed it would take the Gulf decades to recover from the BP disaster, particularly for oysters. Oysters had not returned to the coast yet, after the 1979 Ixtoc 1 blowout in the Bay of Campeche, 31 years ago. Blue crab and shrimp catches had fallen in Mississippi and Alabama since the spill, and he also expressed worries about ongoing dolphin die-offs. But his primary concern was the slow recovery of the region’s oyster population. “Mississippi recently opened their season, and their oyster fishermen were restricted to 12 sacks of oysters a day. But they can’t even reach six, against the thirty sacks on a normal day for oysters, the previous limit. I’m looking at a 20-year hiatus,” said Cake.

The problems were not just with the crabs and shrimp. Grouper fishing had also down since the spill. Fish, including groupers were seen with tar balls in their stomachs from as far as the Florida Keys. Many fishermen in the area had given up and had left the fishing business, selling out cheap because they had to . Seafood from the Gulf had become the most tested in the world, adding insult to injury.

Dolphins Exposed to Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Had More Health Problems Than Others

To understand the effects of oil contamination on marine mammals such as dolphins and whales, researchers conducted health assessments on 32 dolphins in Barataria Bay, a site chosen because it was most affected during and after the spill from the Deepwater Horizon well .  The team compared those dolphins to 27 from Florida’s Sarasota Bay, where researchers have been conducting a decades-long study of dolphin health and which remained oil-free following the spill. Bottlenose dolphins are one of 29 species of whales and dolphins in the gulf. The Center for Biological Diversity estimates that the oil spill killed or harmed more than 6,000 sea turtles and 25,000 marine mammals, such as various species of dolphins. (Infant dolphins were found dead at six times the average rates three years later, in January and February 2013).

The dolphins were exposed to the oil in three ways: through direct contact with oil stuck to their skin; through ingestion, either directly from the water or from eating fish that had been contaminated and through inhaling aerosolized compounds derived from oil, the result of breathing air that came from directly above the water’s surface.

They found that bottlenose dolphins in Louisiana’s Barataria Bay were suffering from a host of maladies, including lung disease and adrenal problems. They were observed to be underweight and had low red blood cell counts, lung disease and pneumonia. They had unusually low levels of adrenal hormones, when matched with the Sarasota dolphins. Many had low blood sugar, and several had low red blood cell counts. Six of the Barataria Bay dolphins — but none of those from Sarasota Bay — blood tests revealed liver abnormalities. Ultrasound exams also allowed the team to diagnose lung disease and pneumonia in many of the Barataria Bay dolphins. In fact, these dolphins were five times as likely as the Sarasota Bay dolphins to suffer from moderate to severe lung disease. Surprisingly, the checkups given to the Barataria Bay dolphins revealed that they were losing their teeth prematurely.

Effect on Fisheries

At the 2014 Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill & Ecosystem Science Conference on 27 January 2014 in Mobile, Alabama, Steve Murawski , with the University of South Florida in St. Petersburg said that incidences of direct moralities on fish populations other than oysters are probably pretty low, while explaining how oysters, which cannot move to escape the oil, were greatly affected by freshwater river diversions following the spill. Kenneth Able , from the Rutgers University Marine Field Station, said he and his colleagues’ studies of fish populations in Louisiana’s Caminada, Barataria and Terrebonne bays showed “no significant difference in species abundance and composition in oiled and unoiled sites.”He, however, conceded that while overall population size did not appear to have been affected by the spill in those Louisiana estuaries, other scientists’ research had shown some negative impacts to fish on an individual level, particularly the embryonic and recently born tuna and amberjack.

He also explained that fish populations might not be impacted as a whole because of their mobility and the consequent ability to move away from oil affected zones. Mobility notwithstanding, Golden Tilefish, a fish that interacts more with the sediment, had higher and more persistent oil contamination, as did embryos of the Marsh Minnow and the Gulf Killifish which showed elevated hydrocarbon levels due to interactions with affected sediment. As of date, they all said that Gulf seafood was safe to eat.

An NOAA study of 25 March 2014 revealed that yellowfin and bluefin tuna, as well as amberjack, that were embryos, larvae or juveniles when the spill occurred during tuna-spawning season in the northern Gulf of Mexico in April 2010 were seriously affected as they grew older. These fish, some of the speediest predators in the ocean, developed heart defects that could limit their ability to catch food. They would probably die prematurely. The findings are important because they demonstrate oil’s impact on the hearts of some types of fish and could help explain a future die-off of tuna.

Effect on Tourism

Each and every major oil spill has created a slick that has reached a popular beach, if not more. The Deepwater Horizon oil spill affected the five US States that have the Gulf as part of its border. These Gulf States have highly populated coastal areas and a thriving tourism industry that is a significant regional job creator. The popularity of a tourist resort is entirely based on tourist perception; the latter can be truly capricious. An oil spill is bad news for the tourism industry. Tourist destinations are directly affected in areas where the spill has washed up on beaches, or pervaded the air with a strong odor, with the tourism industry also facing serious reputational blows.

After a survey, the Louisiana Office of Tourism found that:

  • 26% of people who had decided to visit the state had postponed or cancelled their trips.
  • A number of people thought that leisure activities related to the sea (swamp tours, boating, etc.) were closed because of the spill which was not the case.
  • The seafood industry was particularly hurt by perceptions that seafood was anathema.
  • Louisiana oysters were rejected in other States.

Negative Impact on the Hospitality Sector: A study across hotels in across Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and Florida  revealed that:

  • Most new resident guests were from oil cleanup crews.
  • 60 percent of hotels surveyed had experienced cancellations starting soon after the blowout.
  • 42 percent of hotels experienced difficulty in booking future events.
  • Rooms and conference halls were often booked at a discount.
  • Lower room occupancy meant lower income. Unoccupied meeting space and empty restaurants also meant lower revenue.

A survey one year later  disclosed that the Deepwater Horizon oil spill had the potential to impact 7.3 million businesses throughout Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas, affecting 34.4 million employees and $5.2 trillion in sales volume. That said, an estimated 25% of businesses forced to shut down due to such a disaster do not re-open thereafter. The charter boat and watercraft rental businesses were the worst affected.

Effect on Business

The BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill affected many small and large businesses in the coastal Gulf State regions, either directly or indirectly . The following industries showed a drop in activity level:

  • Commercial fishing,
  • Recreational/tourism,
  • Oyster and seafood processing,
  • BP pipe and fittings suppliers, and numerous others.

Businesses from car dealers to retail outlets were being hurt, according to state and federal officials. The spill was having a ‘multiplier effect’ on charter boats, vacation property owners, and tugboat owners among others, who were seeing customers cancel contracts. Used car sales were off 20 percent because potential customers were holding off on spending out of fear of the spill’s impact, and fishing-related sales were down 80 percent at sporting goods stores. Even the festive Mardi Gras was being hurt because the spill coincides with the due date on float deposits and businesses were also holding off. Sen. Mary Landrieu, who chaired the Senate small business committee said, “Countless related business — restaurants, ice houses, processers, grocery stores, convention centers, and suppliers — are being affected. We are doing everything we can to help.” Indeed, this time around, the Small Business Administration  (SBA) was trying to put into practice the lessons it learned from its scandalous response to the Katrina disaster. Since Katrina, the SBA has increased its disaster assistance work stations from 300 to 1,750. Small businesses faced the biggest long-term impacts. Mom and pop restaurants and small gift shops were severely dented.

Effect on Coral

Most of the seafloor in the Gulf of Mexico consists of fine-grained sediment. However, as an indirect offshoot of both historical and modern natural hydrocarbon seepage in the Gulf, there are numerous exposed carbonate hardgrounds that are often colonized by megafauna, including colonial cold-water corals. Gorgonian corals, also known as sea whips or sea fans, are similar to the sea pen, a soft coral. Gorgonians are technically not coral themselves. Individual tiny polyps form colonies that are normally erect, flattened, branching, and are fan shaped. They are often abundant on these hardgrounds, and five species of gorgonians were recently identified in the Gulf of Mexico below 250 m  depth. These corals increase habitat heterogeneity and provide shelter for a variety of other organisms, including commercial fish species and associated invertebrates. Most cold-water corals are slow-growing; individual gorgonian colonies can live for hundreds to thousands of years . Thus, these corals and the communities that form on and in association with them are unlikely to recover quickly from events lethal to significant portions of the corals.

Effect on Ecology

The 4,000 odd oil rigs in the Gulf have affected the delicate ecological balance that existed just one hundred years ago. They have disrupted the interaction between the many different species of flora and fauna in their natural environment, and this disruption of their regimen has brought about many linked disruptions to the whole chain of species .

Disasters like the Deepwater Horizon affect the established growth principle of sustained ecological and environmental systems, restraining the species in their own habitat, their supply of food, water and other essentials for their survival. As a result, the supply of resources changes and causes major drawbacks to the already preset and proven patterns in the area.

The fragile habitat, already subject to varying climatic changes, had been immersed in an unexpected sludge of oil – a substance that is poisonous, hard to sponge, and which leaves physical residue on the surrounding ecosystem. The marine ecosystem, coastal territory, conditions of the physical and inbred activities—are all in danger following such a disaster. The media and the industry tend to quickly analyze only the physical effects such as the oil sludge in the sea and their washing up along the coast. Their cleanup is only an immediate resolution, the true impact will be seen and felt long after the emergency steps have been implemented.

Scientists and fishermen have discovered fish and crustaceans with skin lesions or other abnormalities in the Gulf. These are the medium-term ecological impacts of the BP oil spill disaster coming to light. The US Food Drug Administration insists that seafood from the Gulf of Mexico is safe to eat regardless of what abnormalities have been found in species so far.  BP also maintains that seafood from the Gulf is as safe to eat as before the oil spill. Does the general public accept these averments blindly? No, they do not. Do you?

Effect on Wildlife

On May 7, 2010—two days before the start of the annual fishing season—oil bounced off Grand Isle and flowed into Terrebonne Bay, Louisiana. In fact, oil fouled 35 percent of the US Gulf Coast’s 2,625 kilometers of shoreline before the spill was done.

The murky waters of the Mississippi River Delta hide a vast variety of life, hence the abundant local commercial and sport fishing. But they also hide the long-term impacts of Deepwater Horizon’s oil spill. The oil that reached shore has been absorbed into the sponge-like wetlands or drifted to the sediment bottom, hurting a shoreline that serves as a nursery for sea life, coastal habitat and a stopover for migratory birds .

Four years after BP’s oil spill, however, its impacts are largely invisible, hidden by the deep, cold waters of the Gulf and dispersed in that vast volume of water or tucked away into the endless marshes of the Louisiana coast. A massive scientific effort is ongoing to precisely quantify the environmental damage caused by the oil spill—whether measured in oily sediments or missing generations of sea life. And a massive battle is on the cards as NOAA takes on BP to decide how much the latter will have to pay for releasing five million barrels of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

As a result of this looming legal fight, much of what could be known about ecological impacts remains hidden. Even dead dolphins that washed ashore have been seized by the US government.

Long-term impacts of the oil spill will not be known for years: After the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska, it took three years before the local herring fishery collapsed. The loss of entire generations of young marine life may also propagate up the food chain—over time. Scientists have found evidence of oil passing into plankton, the broad base of the food web. Impacts to marine life range from outright death to reduced reproduction, altered development, impaired feeding as well as compromised immune systems .

What is amply clear is that the approximately five million barrels of crude oil that spewed into the Gulf of Mexico was toxic—a toxicity multiplied 52 times by the use of nearly two million gallons of dispersant both in the deep sea and at the surface. BP’s Macondo well oil itself smothered birds; more than 8,000 such birds representing 102 different species were collected—2,263 of them already dead—by government workers. This is just a fraction of the birds affected because an oil-coated bird at sea sinks. The Center for Biological Diversity estimates that the oil spill killed or harmed approximately 82,000 birds as well as more than 6,000 sea turtles and 25,000 marine mammals, such as various species of dolphins. Alligators have also borne the brunt of this misfortune, given the depredation of their coastal habitat.

The Recovery Process: Oil Dispersants Come Full Circle

As early as 15 May 2010, the US Coast Guard and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) authorized BP to use chemical dispersants underwater to help break up the oil leaking freely into the Gulf of Mexico at close to 60,000 bpd. The dispersant selected by BP was Nalco Holding’s Corexit 9500, the recipe of which was classified as trade secret. Nalco did append a caution: Corexit 9500 could cause irritation to the eyes, skin and respiratory tract with prolonged contact. Toxicologists and environmental scientists said, however, that dispersants were unlikely to cause immediate harm to people. Charlie Henry, scientific support coordinator with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, stated that the dispersants being used in the Gulf  showed ‘fairly low toxicity’.

Oil dispersants are a common product used to clean and control oil spills in the ocean. They are special fluid chemicals that bond to the oil molecules and separate them from water molecules, thus breaking up the oil. The result is tiny oil droplets that can biodegrade more quickly than a mass of oil. Though they are chemicals, they are generally less harmful than the highly toxic oil, according to the Coast Guard and EPA. EPA administrator Lisa Jackson  believed that “using them on an oil spill produced the lesser of two difficult environmental outcomes.” But there were some naysayers, including Ken Rosenberg of Cornell University’s Lab of Ornithology, who believed that dispersants still posed a problem for the environment. In his words , “Almost certainly it’s going to have major effects down in the water to the marine life and, ultimately, this is the same marine life on which the birds and animals on the surface are dependent.” What they did agree upon was the fact that roe and larvae, shrimp, coral and oysters were potentially at the highest risk from dispersants.

The concept of using dispersants underwater was new, and BP planned to inject them directly into the oil flow at a point close to the main leak on the seabed. The technique could possibly help break up and disperse the oil before it reached the surface, BP hoped.

BP attacked the oil spill full bore, using skimmers, booms, domes, controlled burning and chemical dispersants – to try to clean up the 1000-barrel (own estimate) per day spillage. Historically, for an oil spill at sea, only 10 to 15 percent of the oil is recovered, a fact that would be re-established in the years to come. This is because the oil becomes a very thin film on top of the water, called sheen. “You can skim only about three percent off the water,” according to the Coast Guard, a figure that would be borne out in time.

The Plan:

BP’s plan was to use:

  • Chemical dispersants: Drop chemical dispersant from the air into the Gulf, to break up the oil slick into smaller droplets. The droplets then get mixed into the water, where they are subjected to ocean currents and natural degradation processes.
  • Skimmers: Once broken up, skimming vessels would go in and collect what was left. The droplets would be collected in drums and some of that material would be cleaned and recycled, with the rest properly disposed.
  • Controlled burn: BP and the Coast Guard, along with other agencies, would use a fireproof boom to corral dense parts of the oil spill, moving it to another location and then burning it. In general, burning is probably the most effective method for cleaning up heavy oil like that leaking in the Gulf, but it had its drawbacks. When you burn near the coast, wildlife is also destroyed. Offshore burning is relatively difficult.
  • Collection domes: BP started to put together a subsea oil collection system, and when used, it would be the first time this shallow-water technology would be adapted for deep water. An excellent ploy up to 300 feet below the surface, but the oil leaks to be covered were nearly a mile down. BP expected it to be ready for deployment within four weeks. When ready, the dome would be placed on the seabed to capture the leaking oil. This oil would then be pumped up to surface vessels that could collect the oil and take it away.

As for the dispersed oil that wasn’t skimmed or burned off or otherwise collected, both BP and US authorities felt it would disperse naturally, eventually breaking up and evaporating. Bacteria could also help degrade most of the oil. If history was a guide, the findings suggested that oil spills could have an impact on the environment for much longer than previously envisaged, even decades.

BP succeeded in placing a 280,000 lb (125 tonne) containment dome over the largest leak to pipe the oil to a storage vessel. Regrettably, this shallow water technique failed because gas combined with cold water at 4°C to form methane hydrate crystals that blocked the opening at the top of the dome. BP then inserted a mile-long riser insertion tube into a pipe leading to the BOP and a stopper-like washer around the tube plugged the end of the riser and diverted the flow into the insertion tube. The collected gas was flared and oil stored onboard drillship Discoverer Enterprise, collecting 924,000 US gallons (22,000 bbl; 3,500 m3) of oil. This set up was dismantled on 14 June. On 16 June  a second containment system connected directly to the blowout preventer began carrying oil and gas to service vessels, where it was consumed in a clean-burning system.

How the Leak Was Contained

Installing the sealing cap involved a multiple stage process with several vessels and remotely operated vehicles over a four to seven day period . The following videos will show how much time and effort was involved.

  1. Sealing cap installation overview (video).
  2. Sealing Cap Installation 1 – Remove LMRP Cap – 14 July 2010.
  3. Sealing Cap Installation 2 – Remove Bolts and Flange – 14 July 2010.
  4. Sealing Cap Installation 3 – Drill Pipe Inspection – 14 July 2010.
  5. Sealing Cap Installation 4 – Flange Transition Spool Install – 14 July 2010.
  6. Sealing Cap Installation 5 – 3 Ram Stack Install – 14 July 2010.

The Volte Face: BP Clean-up Made Oil Spill 52 Times More Toxic

A study conducted by researchers at Georgia Institute of Technology in the United States and the Universidad Autonoma de Aguascalientes (UAA) in Mexico has found that the clean-up mission appears to have made the disaster even worse: 52 times worse, to be exact. This is a direct refutation of what was claimed so far.

The study arrived at this conclusion by looking at rotifers , microscopic organisms at the bottom of the Gulf’s food chain, like meiofauna. Five types of rotifers were used for this experiment because they are very sensitive to toxicity and react quickly to changes in environment. When rotifers were exposed to oil-dispersant mixtures, they died extremely quickly. Researchers also found that as little as 2.6 percent of the oil-dispersant mixture prevented rotifer eggs from hatching by 50 percent. The finding about rotifer eggs was particularly agonizing for researchers because rotifer eggs hatch each spring into rotifers, providing food for baby fish, shrimp, and crabs.

Furious backpedalling was noticed. UAA was very charitable when it said, “Dispersants are preapproved to help clean up oil spills and are widely used during disasters. Obviously we had poor understanding of their toxicity. Our study indicates the increase in toxicity may have been greatly underestimated following the Macondo well explosion.”

What remains to be determined is how much the benefits of dispersing the oil by using Corexit or similar dispersants are outweighed by the substantial increase in toxicity of the mixture. Perhaps we should allow the oil to naturally disperse. It might take longer, but it would have less toxic impact on marine ecosystems. Two million tons of Corexit on almost five million tons of crude oil-we are looking at decades, like Dr. Cake!

Did BP Use Sickening Chemicals to Clean Gulf Coast Oil Spill?

Now the tack has changed and BP has been served a double whammy. The first was the entirely avoidable man-made disaster of the Deepwater Horizon, caused by mankind’s insatiable philargyria or avarice. BP has learned that money begets money, but when the path is not entirely straight, past sins have this wicked habit of revisiting you. The second is the blame in toto for poisoning the Gulf of Mexico and depriving the poor and needy of means of sustenance in the human context and the killing, direct or indirect, of thousands of life forms in the world of Mother Nature.

Apart from the grotesque deformities in sea life described so far, more need to be considered:

  • Dead dolphins in record numbers, killed by weakened immune systems and brucella bacteria
  • Blue crab populations wiped out
  • Oyster beds not reproducing
  • 60% of coral on platforms killed

As BP was trying to contain the post-explosion oil spillage, the U.S. government allowed the company to apply chemical ‘dispersants’ to the blossoming oil slick to prevent toxic grunge from reaching the fragile bays, beaches, and mangroves of the coast, where so much marine life originates. Recent studies show that BP and the feds may have made a huge mistake, for which everything from microscopic organisms to bottlenose dolphins are now paying the highest price.

After the spill, BP acquired about a third of the world’s supply of dispersants, namely Corexit 9500 and 9527. Of the two, 9527 is more toxic . Corexit dispersants emulsify oil into tiny beads, causing them to sink toward the bottom. Wave action and wind turbulence degrade the oil further, and evaporation concentrates the toxins in the oil-Corexit mixture, including dangerous compounds called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), known to cause cancer and developmental disorders.

Hydrocarbon-laden, mutated seafood is not the only legacy left behind by Corexit. Steve Kolian, a researcher and founder of the nonprofit ecology sustenance group EcoRigs, had his divers take water and marine life samples at several locations in the months following the blowout. Now, they and many other Gulf residents are sick, with horrific symptoms, including bleeding from the nose, ears, breasts, and even anus. Others complain of cognitive damage, including what one man calls getting “stuck stupid,” when he temporarily cannot move or speak, but can still hear. “If we are getting sick, then you know the marine life out in the Gulf is too,” Kolian said.

After the dispersants were exhausted, it has been discovered that they didn’t degrade as expected, that air deployment likely contaminated crops, and that it could have created toxic rain in other parts of the world.

Cleaning up the Oil Slick

Apart from the various methods discussed to clean up an oil slick, many other methods remain undisclosed. Some range from the novel to the quirky to the new-generation automatic. CNBC has come up with 17 Ways To Clean Up The Gulf Oil Spill. Use the link to read them.

In the eBook Deep Sea Oil Spill Cleanup Techniques: Applicability, Trade-offs and Advantages written by Pam Graham  for ProQuest Discovery Guides, she covers the basic methods, explaining how they work. Space and aircraft-based remote sensors (which work by detecting color, reflectance, temperature, roughness and other sea surface properties) are proving useful in a variety of oil spill detection modes, such as large area surveillance, site specific monitoring, and tactical assistance in emergencies. They are expensive and operators need to be highly trained, however, a minor constraint. According to her, the ideal system would be completely automatic to reduce operational staff; would be capable of delivering real-time data (including wave and current information) with no need for post-processing, and would be able to see oil spills in the dark, enabling 24/7 vigilance.

Containment: Oil Booms

When oil is accidentally released into a body of water, the most urgent priority is limiting the spill’s spread to minimize the natural resources at risk and to facilitate cleanup and removal. Swift and skillful deployment of a containment boom is essential for achieving both of these goals. Because oil is less dense than water, it rises to the surface, where floating fences called booms can corral it.

In its simplest form, a boom consists of a length of rugged fabric with buoyant filler stitched into the side intended to float above the water, and a heavy chain or other ballast inserted into the bottom to weigh down the sub-surface skirt and make it sink. Boom material is brightly colored for ease of recovery and to help crews spot a break in the line. The freeboard (above surface) component is commonly designed to reduce splash-over, while the skirt is engineered to keep oil from escaping beneath the boom. In the Gulf, containment booms stretching over 4,200,000 feet (1,300 km) were deployed, either to corral the oil or as barriers to protect marshes, mangroves, shrimp/ crab/oyster ranches or other ecologically sensitive areas. If one-time-use sorbent booms were added, the total length would increase to 13,300,000 feet (4,100 km). Other contraptions include Skimmers, Separators and the like.

The novel ones include the Cherrington Beach Cleaner, the Heavy Oil Recovery Device(HORD), the Sand-Washing Unit, the Navy MZ-3A airship and finally, The Whale. This last behemoth is the world’s largest oil-skimming vessel, operated by a Taiwanese company and recently retrofitted in Portugal to be more effective in cleaning up Deepwater Horizon oil. A Whale is three-and-a-half football fields long, 10 stories high and, through vents on the side of its bow, can suck up 21 million gallons of oil-contaminated water a day. Given its bulk and size, the Whale is hard to maneuver and slow. The Coast Guard is worried it may not be nimble enough to skim the ever-shape-shifting slick, although it is still testing the vessel near the spill site to determine whether or not it will actually be used in the cleanup effort. Kevin Costner has also devised equipment to tackle the problem, and his video is very interesting.

Controlled Burn

In what is also known as an in situ burn, fire booms which are U-shaped devices that are towed behind two boats and used to pull oil away from the main spill for safe burning, can be used when seas are below 3 feet and when sufficient amounts of oil can be corralled. Controlled burns were used at the Deepwater Horizon spill site through mid-May, 2010 when conditions were right. By June 22, more than 225 controlled burns have been conducted that removed more than 9.3 million gallons of oil from the open water.

After the loss of 11 precious lives and the oil rig (estimated at $100 million), BP claimed to have spent close to $6 million per day during the 87 day salvage operation. Other assessors are a bit more conservative and estimated that the initial cost of cleaning up was closer to $5 million than six. The provisional expenses so far have totaled $42.4 billion, of which $20 billion had been set aside as a compensation fund to pay victims of the oil spill. With the legal battle set to go into 2015 as indicated by syndicated news columns of 27 March 2014, BP could be staring at a figure nearer $90 billion. This final amount would depend on how the trial court under Judge Carl Barbier evaluates overall costs. What is astonishing is that in July 2010, BP had first estimated its cleanup outgo as just $450 million. The link is to a video that puts forth BP’s argument.

Is the Cleanup Complete?

As of June 2013, BP claimed that its clean up task had been completed in the states of Alabama, Mississippi, and Florida. The responsibility of examining any further reports of oil sightings would now lie with the Coast Guard. BP assumed the entire responsibility for patrolling about 85 coastal miles of the State of Louisiana , where the ongoing cleanup would continue at a faster pace. There was a rider to this definitive statement. If oil was sighted outside the State of Louisiana, the report would be sent to the National Response Center which would further authorize the Coast Guard to use sampling, matching, fingerprinting and other investigative means to identify the source of the pollution and find the responsible party. If the oil was found to be MC252 oil (the designation of oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill), BP would be held accountable for the cleanup. No timeframe was set for completing the task for Louisiana.

BP Puts Finger Into Own Pie

BP settled with most private plaintiffs in March 2012, just before a trial on liability for the disaster. Starting with $4.0 billion, BP had upped the sum to $7.8 in 2011, before resting its final amount at $9.2 billion in March 2012. In what is being seen as a massive goof-up, BP’s lawyers negotiated the settlement in Judge Barbier’s court with scores of civil plaintiff’s lawyers in a very loosely worded agreement, which they now contend was done as a matter of honor. Reminded that this was the US and not the UK, BP was informed by a federal appeals court to abide by terms of the settlement with victims of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill after failing to satisfy judges that a claims administrator was misinterpreting the deal. The cash value amounts to $9.2 billion as of now.

BP had argued that Judge Carl Barbier of Federal District Court and the court-appointed claims administrator, Patrick Juneau, had misinterpreted settlement terms in ways that would force the oil giant, based in London, to pay for billions of dollars in inflated or false claims by individuals and businesses . BP’s video on p. 21 is quite clear on the issue. Federal officials had made public an indictment in October 2013 of seven people accused of receiving thousands of dollars in fraudulent claims from BP, according to the Associated Press. Four of the defendants are relatives of Alabama’s secretary of Law Enforcement and Homeland Security. The Alabama indictments were unveiled as a court-appointed special master, former FBI Director Louis Freeh, investigated allegations of improprieties in the administration of a multibillion-dollar BP claims settlement designed to compensate business and economic harm. But the current ruling is that BP has to pay up, regardless of the actuals. BP has challenged Judge Barbier in his own backyard, setting the scene for a long legal battle. “The craziest thing about the settlement,” said Tampa attorney Kevin McLean, “is that you can be compensated for losses that are unrelated to the spill.”

The same ruling holds good for businesses also, the difference being that the sums involved are larger. A construction company in northern Alabama, 200 miles from the coast, was recently awarded $9.7 million, even though it does no work near the Gulf of Mexico, according to court records. Attorneys are submitting claims on their own behalf. A law office in central Louisiana that actually enjoyed improved profits in 2010 collected $3.3 million. The compensation process is confidential, so claimants’ identities aren’t a matter of public record, though the amounts are. Thus far 63,128 eligible claims have been awarded and 52,525 claims have been denied by Juneau, including one for an iPad. A $173,000 payout to an “adult escort service ” that BP said was filed with unsigned and undated financial documents was also approved. Other factual evidence included:

  • A lawyer located midland, whose business license was revoked for all of 2010 ($172,253).
  • A wireless phone store closed through 2010 after a fire ($135,258).
  • A nursing home in Louisiana that shut down a year before the spill happened ($662,834).

Even as it continues a cheerful quarter-billion-dollar print and television ad campaign about how the Gulf has returned to normal, BP is crying foul. “It was never our intention for the company to become an open cash register for every claim or project anyone could dream up,” says BP spokesman Geoff Morrell. Locals say BP may have been naive.

An official Court-authorized website titled Deepwater Horizon Claims Center: Economic & Property Damage Claims  now guides anybody and everybody on how to put in a claim if they are an affected party.

Medical Claim Settlement

The official procedure was provided by the US Law Dept. On Jan. 11, 2013, US District Judge Barbier granted final approval of the Medical Benefits Class Action Settlement, effective wef Feb. 12, 2014. The deadline for filing a claim under the Medical Benefits Settlement is Feb. 12, 2015.

Eligibility for Payments:

The following people living in the United States as of April 16, 2012, who were exposed to the spill or the dispersant used to clean up the spill and became sick with certain acute or chronic illnesses may be eligible for payment:

  • Residents living within 1/2 mile of specified beachfront areas in AL, LA, MS or the FL panhandle for some time on each of at least 60 days between April 20, 2010, and Sept. 30, 2010 (Zone A).
  • Residents living within one mile of specified wetlands in the areas of AL, LA, MS or the FL panhandle for some time on each of at least 60 days between April 20, 2010, and Dec. 31, 2010 (Zone
  • Cleanup workers who participated in land and water cleanup efforts between April 20, 2010, and April 16, 2012.

The data provided is essentially a comprehensive medical document.

Oil Spill Deforms Sea Life

The after effects of the 2010 BP oil spill are gradually emerging . As stated earlier, marine life has been horribly disfigured, e.g., shrimp with tumors, eyeless fish, and crabs with holes in their shells, etc. Prior to the spill, only 0.1 percent of Gulf fish had lesions or sores on them. After the spill, this figure jumped 200 times to 20 percent of fish having lesions with as much as 50 percent in other areas. Al Jazeera compiled and published a disturbing report on the after-effects:

  • Shrimp with tumors on their heads.
  • Shrimp with defects on their gills and “shells missing around their gills and head.”
  • Shrimp without eyes.
  • Shrimp with babies still attached to them.
  • Eyeless fish.
  • Fish without eye-sockets.
  • Fish without covers on their gills.
  • Fish with large pink masses hanging off their eyes and gills.
  • Crates of blue crabs, all of which were lacking at least one claw.
  • Crabs with holes in their shells.
  • Crabs with shells that have no spikes or claws or misshapen claws.
  • Crabs that are dying from within.

 

The after effects on turtles, alligators, dolphins, groupers, other fish, deep-sea life forms, tuna and other fast moving predatory fish have already been documented. Pelicans, gulls and other seabirds have also become prey to this gigantic disaster as have speckled trout, redfish, flounder, West Indian manatees, whooping cranes, Mississippi sand hill cranes and wood storks. The number of deaths cannot be calculated on a progressive basis, as birds and fish and smaller life forms could die unobserved. Numbers are of little significance, as 2010 figures across the board were humongous and affected species had their longevity reduced drastically.

Turning to mankind, we now know that the dispersants used to clean up the oil spill are toxic to humans. Symptoms of exposure  include “headaches, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pains, chest pains, respiratory system damage, skin sensitization, hypertension, central nervous system depression, neurotoxic effects, cardiac arrhythmia and cardiovascular damage.” Even more damningly, it can disturb the growth and development of a fetus. This is a wake-up call to governing bodies to balance filthy lucre against a God-given chance to lead a healthy and normal life.

Where are the oiled specimens of life now? Read this report…

Types of Animals in Danger Because of the Spill

The types of life forms affected by the spill are legion, as can be gathered by the presentation so far. However, some more species include:

  • Migratory songbirds. About 96 species of neo-tropical songbirds like warblers, orioles, buntings, flycatchers and swallows make a 500-mile journey without a pit stop across the Gulf of Mexico. The polluted air in the early days could have affected them.
  • Sharks, including the Tiger Shark. The grass beds south of the Chandeleur Islands, which sit very close to this spill, are a known spawning and nursing area for a number of species of sharks.
  • Brown Pelican. The Brown Pelican, which serves as the state bird of Louisiana, has had a difficult
  • time with storms over the past few seasons and only came off the endangered species list a year ago.
  • Oysters. The coastal waters around the very tip of Louisiana’s boot-shaped coast are home to some of the most productive oyster farms in the country. Oils and hydrocarbons are toxic to oysters.

An interactive collection is available at this link.

 

Government Report Blames BP on Oil Spill

As expected, the US Govt. placed the blame squarely on BP, wriggling out of its own shoddy complicity in the accident. As brought out earlier, the report says:

The loss of life at the Macondo site on April 20, 2010, and the subsequent pollution of the Gulf of Mexico through the summer of 2010 were the result of poor risk management, last-minute changes to plans, failure to observe and respond to critical indicators, inadequate well control response, and insufficient emergency bridge response training by companies and individuals responsible for drilling at the Macondo well and for the operation of the Deepwater Horizon.

The fact that both President Obama and BP called it a force majeure does not find mention anywhere. A list of the federal regulation violations that led to the Deepwater Horizon disaster is a duplication of what this article has already revealed:

  • BP failed to protect health, safety, property, and the environment by (1) performing all operations in a safe and workmanlike manner; and (2) maintaining all equipment and work areas in a safe condition.
  • BP, Transocean, and Halliburton (Sperry Sun) failed to take measures to prevent the unauthorized release of hydrocarbons into the Gulf of Mexico and creating conditions that posed unreasonable risk to public health, life, property, aquatic life, wildlife, recreation, navigation, commercial fishing, or other uses of the ocean
  • BP, Transocean, and Halliburton (Sperry Sun) failed to take necessary precautions to keep the well under control at all times.
  • BP and Halliburton failed to cement the well in a manner that would properly control
  • formation pressures and fluids and prevent the release of fluids from any stratum through the wellbore into offshore waters.
  • BP failed to use pressure integrity test and related hole-behavior observations, such as pore pressure test results, gas-cut drilling fluid, and well kicks to adjust the drilling fluid program and the setting depth of the next casing string.
  • BP and Transocean failed to conduct major inspections of all BOP stack components.
  • BP failed to perform the negative test procedures detailed in an application for a permit to modify its plans.

 

Federal Response to Oil Spill Comes Under Renewed Criticism

The federal response to the oil spill was roundly criticized, particularly when Obama changed tack midway, stressing the need for additional exploratory sites in distant areas. Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal was more focused, voicing frustration with what he described as the government’s ‘disjointed’ response to the spill. He pressed officials for additional containment boom, skimmers and other resources and repeated his request for approval to begin building a series of protective sand barriers. “This oil threatens not only our coast and our wetlands, this oil fundamentally threatens our way of life in southeastern Louisiana,” Jindal  said.

Sand berms were built in 2010 to block BP oil from Louisiana’s coast. Recently, however, several berms in Barataria Basin are being fortified into barrier islands by the state’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, using funds from BP ($360 million). These berms-to-barriers projects–located about 50 miles south of New Orleans on the west side of the Mississippi River–are within the first line of defense against coastal erosion.

Federal Government Responsibility

As already shown, the federal govt. initially assisted BP in its drilling activities, though MMS issued clearances without carrying out the background checks mandated by law. However, no lawsuit has been filed against the govt. for failing in its duties of overseeing all activities, considering that it was the owner of the Gulf area affected and was selling leases for oil drilling. BP is, however, crusading against the govt., stating that the govt. must share some liability for what took place under the lease. Strident calls by diverse plaintiffs for punitive actions and levying steep fines on BP have taken center stage, with a no-holds barred battle between BP and the multitude of plaintiffs collecting all attention.

On 21 February 2014, a three-judge panel of the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals kept alive BP’s request to have the full court review its expensive settlement with private businesses affected by its 2010 oil spill, with one dissident judge accepting that freebooters were partaking of BP’s claim settlement payment. BP also faulted the govt. for not ensuring a fair trial, citing the case where the district court failed to follow a clear legal directive to enter an injunction preventing payments to claimants who did not suffer harm traceable to the Deepwater Horizon accident. Regarding Deepwater Horizon, the question is whether the govt. failed to exercise its regulatory obligations. It did fail. There were many lapses in regulatory enforcement that the federal government must accept responsibility for.

Some clear cases are:

  • The US Dept. of the Interior exempted BP’s Gulf of Mexico drilling operation from a detailed environmental impact study as required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
  • The Dept. of the Interior accepted replacement of the damaged Transocean Marianas, without confirming if the MMS had checked out the replacement rig, the Deepwater Horizon and its safety mechanisms.
  • The environmental risk was miscalculated, and the govt. seems to have been unprepared to fulfill its responsibility to clean up the spill.
  • Financial interests in energy production (royalty and taxes) tend to align the government’s interests with those of its corporate partners. This could create a perception of impropriety.
  • If the govt. and industry grow closer together, this relationship could hamper the government’s ability to provide fair and efficient regulation.

As policymakers  reevaluate the regulatory regime over offshore drilling, they should consider the following:

  • Do not ban offshore drilling.
  • Hold lessee fully liable for drilling operations.
  • Keep primary responsibility for safety with the lessee.
  • Limit federal intervention into the energy industry.
  • Review the NEPA process.

The 21 February 2014 ruling was overturned in March 2014. BP would now be required to stick to the agreement it had committed to in 2010 and reaffirmed in 2012 that it would honor all claims.

The Bill So Far For the Deepwater Horizon Disaster

  1. Beach and other cleanup costs – $14bn
  2. Early claims settled – $9bn
  3. Early restoration projects – $1bn
  4. Criminal charges with the department of justice – $4bn
  5. Individual and small businesses claims through plaintiff steering committee –  $7.8bn(9.2bn)
  6. Securities and Exchange Commission claims – $525m

Outstanding:

  1. Claims from local and state governments – $34bn
  2. Worst case scenario damages under a Clean Water Act – $21bn
  3. Natural resource damages – (unquantified)
  4. BP has won back $5bn from well equity partners Anadarko and Mitsui. -$5bn
  5. No settlement yet with rig operator Transocean or contractor Halliburton

Total $87.725bn

Timeline of the Gulf Coast Oil Spill and the Response by the Federal Government

  • Tuesday, April 20:

Government responds to late-night report that the offshore drilling rig Deepwater Horizon had exploded and was on fire.

  • Wednesday, April 21:

Coast Guard rescue helicopters and a rescue plane respond to the site, searching for 11 missing workers.
Interior Department’s No. 2 official, David Hayes, goes to New Orleans; Minerals Management Service (MMS) and Coast Guard establish operations centers near site of explosion.

  • Thursday, April 22:

Deepwater Horizon oil rig sinks.
Search-and-rescue operations includes 17 missions – 12 by air and five in the water.
National Response Team is activated. Organization of 16 federal departments and agencies including the White House, Coast Guard, the departments of Defense, Homeland Security and Interior, and Environmental Protection Agency, among others.
President Barack Obama convenes an Oval Office meeting to discuss ongoing response efforts.
Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) with camera goes under water, confirms no visible oil flow from the well. Chemical dispersants intended to break up the oil slick readied.

  • Friday, April 23:

Authorities conduct 28 search-and-rescue operations covering about 5,300 square miles. At 5 p.m., Coast Guard suspends the search for the missing 11.
Rig found upside down about ¼ miles from BOP. Oil sheen reported, no apparent leak discovered.
Homeland Security risk analysis says incident “poses a negligible risk to regional oil supply markets and will not cause significant national economic impacts.”

  • Saturday, April 24:

Homeland Security report on critical infrastructure says problem has “no near-term impact to regional or national crude oil or natural gas supplies.”
Oil is found leaking from the well for the first time; pressure and rate of release are unknown.

  • Sunday, April 25:

20 more vessels and 500 responders deployed.
Oil leak is estimated at 1,000 barrels a day (42,000 gallons).
Homeland Security report says estimated discharge rate could reach 64,000 to 110,000 barrels of oil per day if rig was to completely blow out.
Five missions disperse about 13,000 gallons of chemical dispersants.
Homeland Security report: “Current NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) oil trajectories predict no oil threat to shoreline within next 72 hours.”

  • Monday, April 26:

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar instructs MMS to physically inspect all deepwater rigs within two weeks, followed by physical inspections of all deepwater platforms .

Conclusion

Time is a great healer. No one remembers the Valdez Exxon; soon Deepwater Horizon will fade away into the murky nether world of black history. The Gulf of Mexico, which has always had an off and with history over the past half-century, is now roaring back to life with at least 10 recent mega-discoveries that have fueled oil explorers’ enthusiasm for the region we just condemned. Billions of dollars are being poured into new wells in the ultra-deep waters off Texas and Louisiana, technology is making extraction from deeper oils possible and facile, airing a phoenix that could set a production record this decade and complete a recovery from the worst offshore oil spill in US history.

Energy consultants Wood Mackenzie  says, “By 2020, the deepwater Gulf, which accounts for about half the Gulf’s 252,000 square miles of federal waters, is expected to produce an average of more than 1.9 million barrels a day, a new high.” US crude production has surged in recent years, largely because companies used hydraulic fracturing and advanced drilling technology to open onshore shale formations. Chevron (CVX), Royal Dutch Shell (RDS/A), and Anadarko Petroleum (APC) are looking to cross the Gulf’s 2009 peak; production collapsed after BP’s (BP) 2010 spill. That disaster, and the five-month drilling moratorium that followed, led to an exodus of rigs and drilling equipment as regulators bolstered safety requirements. BP, the culprit of yesteryear, never went into the red and is a major operator in the deep Gulf. It was the biggest producer there in 2012 and has ownership stakes in more than 650 leases.

Adieu, Deepwater Horizon.

REFERENCES CITED: AS THEY APPEAR SEQUENTIALLY IN THE TEXT

  1. Volume of oil exiting the damaged well.
  2. Ramseur and Hagerty, 2013. Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill: Recent activities & ongoing developments.
  3. What is Petroleum?
  4. Undersea organisms such as zooplankton and algae
  5. Formation of kerogen.
  6. See 5
  7. Rates for leasing deepwater oil rigs - Rigzone
  8. Rates for leasing deepwater oil rigs - Bloomberg
  9. Cap rock.
  10. See 5
  11. Drill String.
  12. Drill string casing.
  13. Blow Out Preventer.
  14. See 13
  15. Ibid
  16. Central Gulf of Mexico Planning Area Lease Sale 206 Information.
  17. Shareholders in the Macondo well prospect.
  18. Date given for completion.
  19. Deepwater Horizon cost per day.
  20. Ibid.
  21. See 17
  22. See 17
  23. BOP failure.
  24. BP engineers’ reported argument.
  25. First line of defense vs kickbacks and blowouts.
  26. Where Did the Discharge Finally Go?< Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 2012, DOI: 10.1073/ pnas.1214389109>
  27. Evaluation of forecast uncertainty.
  28. Chemical data quantify Deepwater Horizon hydrocarbon flow rate and environmental distribution.
  29. Deepwater Horizon hydrocarbon flow rate and environmental distribution.
  30. Macondo material composition.
  31. Effect on Microbial Life Forms.
  32. Montagna P.A, Baguley J.G, Cooksey C., Hartwell I., Hyde LJ., et al. (2013) Deep-Sea Benthic Footprint of the Deepwater Horizon Blowout. PLoS ONE 8(8): e70540. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0070540 Published: August 07, 2013. < http:// aquaticcommons. org/14671/>
  33. Effect on Gulf Seafood Industry.
  34. Ibid.
  35. Goldman, Jason G. Oil-exposed Louisiana dolphins show variety of maladies.
  36. Alexander-Bloch, Benjamin. BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill’s impact on Gulf of Mexico.
  37. Ibid.
  38. Ibid.
  39. Darryl Fears. Deepwater Horizon oil spill effects on tuna likely to prove fatal.
  40. Effect on Tourism.
  41. Ibid.
  42. Deepwater Horizon impact potential.
  43. BP Gulf Oil Spill: The Impact On Coastal Businesses.
  44. BP Oil Spill Rips Through Gulf Small Businesses.
  45. Effect on Coral.
  46. Environmental Impact of the BP Oil Spill.
  47. How Did the BP Oil Spill Affect Gulf Coast Wildlife?
  48. Ibid.
  49. NOAA states Corexit dispersants have low toxicity.
  50. Ibid.
  51. Ibid.
  52. What is sheen?
  53. Ibid.
  54. Second containment system connected.
  55. How the Leak Was Contained.
  56. Environmental Pollution, Volume 173, February 2013, Pages 5–10.
  57. Takepart.
  58. Ibid.
  59. Ibid.
  60. Deep Sea Oil Spill Cleanup Techniques: Applicability, Trade-offs and Advantages. eBook. Graham P. ProQuest Discovery Guides.
  61. Containment novelties.
  62. Controlled Burn.
  63. Cost of Cleaning Up.
  64. Is the Cleanup Complete?
  65. Fraudulent claims vs BP.
  66. Adult escort service paid.
  67. Court-authorized website.
  68. Medical Claim Settlement.
  69. Oil Spill Deforms Sea Life.
  70. Symptoms of exposure.
  71. Where are the oiled specimens of life now?
  72. Government Report Blames BP on Oil Spill.
  73. Federal response to oil spill criticized.
  74. Regulatory regime over offshore drilling.
  75. Timeline of the Gulf Coast Oil Spill.
  76. US crude production in the Gulf to surge.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

LIST OF FIGURES

 

 

 

 

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