Gulf Oil Spill: Facts, Causes, Response, Effects

Introduction

Oil spills are generally common in world history, due to accidents, which occur beyond human control or as a result of errors and ignorance. Oil companies are expected to have machineries aimed at preventing such occurrences or strategies from mitigating the negative effects of oil spills, from avoiding excess damage to the environment and life in general. Even though history records several oil spills, the Gulf Oil Spill of 2010 remains one of the most disastrous spills, which affected life to a great extent, with some of the effects being felt to-date. This research paper gives a detailed analysis of the Gulf Oil Spill, including facts, causes, response, impact, and recommendations, with regard to the accident, which significantly affected fauna and flora.

Gulf Oil Spill

April 2010 was the fateful day when BP was hit by one of the largest oil spills in the world’s history of the petroleum industry. According to analysts, the spill caused a series of negative effects, especially to the fishing industry and the wildlife sector (Farrell, 2011). Due to the magnitude of the spill, investigations were carried out, which revealed that it was not easy to avoid the accident, based on intertwined factors that had been assumed during the early stages of drilling the well. In addition to the errors, the spill exposed the weaknesses of BP to the rest of the world, including poor communication, underestimation of the impact of the spill, and the company’s unpreparedness to deal will emergencies.

Most of the companies, which were involved as BP’s partners found it hard to relay information, because of the global impact that the accident was to cost the company throughout its future activities in the petroleum industry. While this was the case, no one was sure about the person responsible in terms of giving commands related to operations. A section of partners believed that BP was responsible, while others assumed that it was the responsibility of the government to issue operational commands for action to be taken (Farrell, 2011). As a result, the problem escalated, with both parties accusing each other of failing to play their roles effectively in responding to the tragedy. Two years down the line, the memories of the blame game might not be alive among most people, but the impact of the spill is still fresh. The question, which is still being asked, is whether the accident was avoidable or not.

Description of the Spill

The accident occurred on April 20, 2010, after the Deepwater Horizon exploded, leading to a massive spill of oil in the Gulf of Mexico, as technicians were still working on it. According to the geographical information given, the explosion took place approximately forty-one miles away from the coast of Louisiana. One of the most astonishing things about the spill is the number of days it took experts to control the leakage (Griggs, 2011). For almost three months, the Macondo well leaked at an average rate of forty thousand barrels of oil per day. This was quite dangerous since it represented almost two million gallons of oil being deposited into the sea within twenty-four hours. Even though it took long for experts to fix the problem, it is worth noting that several efforts that were employed remained unsuccessful until mid-July, 2010, when they managed to seal the head of the well with a cap that was tighter. By the time this was happening, approximately 4.9 million gallons of oil had been released into the sea, making history as the highest oil spillage that the world had ever witnessed (Griggs, 2011).

There were facts, which were gathered by experts after the spill in an attempt to identify its cause and whether it would have been possible to control it or not. For instance, a report that was conducted by the New York Times revealed that workers had expressed serious concerns before the accident occurred on April 20, 2010. The concerns were mainly based on a series of practices, which were considered to be unsafe on the rig. Unfortunately, it was not possible for the workers to raise the alarm as they were afraid of Transocean managers (Griggs, 2011). Further investigations after the spill revealed that a huge amount of oil had settled on the floor of the sea, against assumptions that the oil had evaporated into the atmosphere or dissipated into the water after the explosion.

Before the explosion, it was established that the management had recommended the reinforcement of the well. However, methane ignition during the exercise resulted in the explosion, claiming the lives of eleven workers, who were never found, while 17 others were rescued with injuries. It was not easy to put out the fire, even by using sophisticated technology and thirty-six hours later, the well sank, leading to the worst oil spill catastrophe in history (Landau, 2011). Despite the fact that the exact cause of the explosion has never been established, most workers had expressed serious fears, noting that they had identified leakage of gas through the cement reinforcement, a few hours before the blast occurred.

What Caused the Spill?

As mentioned before, it was not easy to ascertain the exact cause of the explosion other than analyzing the state of the well moments before the explosion and the testimonies shared by workers who survived. In finding the root cause of the spill, it is important to note that the blame game continued as BP solely laid the weight of the matter on Halliburton and Transocean who were partnering with the oil company as contractors. This sparked anger, as each player in the case remained defensive in order to maintain a positive public image in the midst of the accident. In a report that was released later after carrying out investigations, it was concluded that the explosion was not caused by a single problem or factor; it was a series of intertwined factors whose climax resulted in the blast (Landau, 2011). Among these factors were mechanical failures, which are common when dealing with machines. Additionally, poor human judgment was blamed as it was believed that the management had ignored indications of danger by compromising certain standards. Other factors, which were directly or indirectly linked to the accident, were operational implementation and engineering framework among others. It therefore suffices to mention that the Gulf Oil Spill cannot be blamed on a single player. Notably, the interconnected factors contributed to the explosion that left lifetime effects in the world.

Even though the reinforcement of the well was necessary, it was discovered that the materials, which were being used for the exercise were not of the best quality. In particular, workers noted the weakness of the cement, which was acquired by contractors for the reinforcement project (Landau, 2011). Due to the poor state of the cement slurry, it allowed the leakage of gases, which later exploded. Additionally, the slurry was poorly designed, making it ineffective in providing the expected support to the well. Based on this, it can be argued that BP was not keen to establish the quality of materials, which were being used by its contractors for the project. This might have been as a result of trust or ignorance from the person who was to carry out the inspection.

Workers were also blamed for different reasons, because of their familiarity with the working environment and the nature of their job. For instance, they failed to identity errors in pressure tests that were carried out yet it was crucial for the survival of the well. As a result, it was assumed that the pressure was within the recommended state, when something was already going wrong. Besides this, workers failed to raise an alarm, fearing to be sacked by their employers (News Basics, 2010). This turned out to be tragic as they were the first victims of the accident before the rest of the world could taste it. The explosion claimed the lives of several workers, who were never found after the explosion, with others sustaining injuries. Some experts have argued that the magnitude of the accident might not have been to that degree if concerns noted by workers were corrected early enough.

In addition, there were mechanical problems, which were assumed by Transocean, despite the fact that it was within its mandate to ensure that there were no errors related to the functioning of various components. In particular, the blowout preventer was found to be faulty since some of its major components were not working properly. Transocean also carried the blame for being unable to detect the leakage of several hydrocarbons, which passed through the blowout preventer before entering the riser (News Basics, 2010). Of great significance is the fact that most of the hydrocarbons, which leaked were flammable, thus putting the entire well at the risk of exploding. Additionally, the slow response to the accident contributed to the escalation of the spill and the worsening of the situation as analysts believed that the response mechanism by BP and other players involved in the blame game was not swift and lacked the capacity to deal with the problem. This was evident by the fact that several methods, which were employed on the blowout preventer failed to control the explosion, making the continuous spill and explosion inevitable.

Based on the report, which appeared to implicate Transocean more than any other player, it reacted angrily by laying the blame on BP for ignoring the poor quality of cement that was used by Halliburton. Greenpeace equally blamed BP for the spill, arguing that the explosion was as a result of human errors coupled with incompetence and technical failure of major components of the well (News Basics, 2010). Nonetheless, the investigation into the spill also faced an array of obstacles like the inability to access some of the materials, which required examination, say, the blowout preventer, which took long before being removed from the sea.

Effects of the Oil Spill

The Gulf Oil Spill had an array of negative effects, some of which are being felt to-date, while others have been considered to be eternal. Most of these effects were environmental, health, and economically related. Importantly, the spill widely affected the environment, considering the fact that, the surrounding plants and animals deeply depended on the sea for their survival. For instance, fishing water and beaches were significantly affected, resulting into serious economic problems for people who lived around the coastline (News Basics, 2010). Due to the nature of oil in terms of toxicity and chemical composition, several aquatic animals were affected, together with those on land.

The Gulf Oil Spill threatened several national parks in the United States as hundreds of animal species living in the Gulf wetlands remained at risk. Importantly, several animals died as a result of the spill. According to the records, more than 8,332 species of animals including, marine animals, fish, birds, molluscs, and sea turtles died (Institute of Medicine, 2010). In November 2010, more than six thousand dead animals were collected, which mainly consisted of birds that largely depended on the sea for their survival. It is therefore evident that the Gulf Oil Spill had tremendous impact on the environment, affecting both plants and animals.

Microscopic organisms like Zooplankton were also affected, as they ingested portions of the oil. This was a threat to not only these organisms but also to fish since Zooplanktons are a major source of food for most types of fish. Their poisoning therefore implied that they either died or caused harm to those animals, which fed on them. Additionally, research indicated the possibility of the sea dying as a result of the oil-coating on the sea floor (Institute of Medicine, 2010). This would mean that sea plants and animals would not survive in the sea, which was previously a home of countless species of fauna and flora. For instance, corals in areas miles away from the explosion site show signs of death, as a result of having been coated by the oil. Studies on dolphins have also revealed how they were affected by the spill that left thousands of fish dead. Most of the samples tested in Barataria Bay have shown an array of illnesses, which are related to those observed among animals, which come into contact with oil. According to the survey, several dolphins had a chain of ailments like low blood sugar, anemia, and massive weight loss. Based on recent findings, the number of dolphin deaths has increased exponentially for the last two years, exceeding previous cases recorded throughout history. Moreover, cases of mutations among various species of fish have increased in the last two years. In general, several deformities have been observed, including the presence of lesions, others born without eyes, soft skin, absence of shells, and other abnormalities (Institute of Medicine, 2010). This has mainly been blamed on the spill together with the chemicals, which were used to clean the sea.

Besides the impact on the environment, the Gulf Oil Spill equally affected human life in various ways. Firstly, it has been found that oil-spill water usually has a higher concentration of carcinogens, which are responsible for several cancer cases in human beings (Goldman et al., 2010). Even though BP managed to seal the cap, ending almost three months of spillage, a research that was conducted in August 2010, revealed that there was a high concentration of chemicals in the Louisiana coastal water, which was as a result of the April spill. This therefore means that most people remain vulnerable to the effects of spillage and some of the cancerous effects of the chemicals might be noticed several years from now.

Besides the carcinogens, which were found in contaminated water, people remained threatened since they depended on the Mexican Sea for food. A major concern was raised after the spill as people wondered whether edible sea animals remained safe for consumption or not. Even though a section of government officials declared that the animals were safe for human consumption, residents bordering the sea failed to agree with the assumptions, expressing their safety and health concerns (Goldman et al., 2010). Despite the fact they had carried out tests to determine the safety of seafood after the spill, the polluted sea and discolored animals were major factors that raised the health alarm.

As a result of people’s doubts concerning the safety of seafood, Gulf fishers and the entire seafood industry faced countless challenges during and after the oil spillage period. For instance, many are challenged in reinstating the confidence of consumers in seafood. From the time some of the Gulf fisheries were reopened, several organizations and the U.S. Congress expressed deep concerns over the safety of seafood because of the oil spill (Farrell, 2011). Importantly, the biggest challenge was mistrust among residents and consumers as they doubted the methods employed in the assessment of seafood safety after the Gulf Oil Spill. Based on this segment of the research, it is evident that the Gulf Oil Spill had an array of effects, ranging from environmental to health.

Recommendations

While most of the effects of the Gulf Oil Spill remain irreversible, it is important to consider ways of preventing future accidents and establishing strategies, aimed at mitigating the impact of such effects. Since offshore drilling offers an important source of oil to the United States, it is essential for the Congress to approve laws, which define the standards of drilling, by identifying safety measures necessary to prevent disaster (Goldman et al., 2010). Additionally, offshore drilling companies ought to have response mechanisms in order to avoid delayed actions when disaster strikes. This should be coupled with the government’s support, since some disasters, like the Gulf Oil Spill may overwhelm individual companies, leading to adverse effects. It is also necessary for the government to carry out continuous assessment on the safety of the environment, including seafood and health problems, resulting from the spill. This would be relevant in protecting fauna and flora.

Conclusion

From the above findings, it is evident that the Gulf Oil Spill remains the leading disaster in the history of petroleum industry, with millions of gallons having leaked into the sea. The spill was caused by several factors, some of which were as a result of human errors while others were linked to mechanical failure. Nevertheless, the spill had a wide range of effects, most of which affected the natural environment, leading to deaths of animals and plants. Based on the danger of oil spillage and its environmental impact, it is necessary for the government streamline offshore drilling to avoid such accidents in future.

References

Farrell, C. (2011). The Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill. Minneapolis MN: ABDO PUBLISHERS.

Goldman et al. (2010). Research Priorities for Assessing Health Effects from the Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill: A Letter Report. National Academy of Sciences. Web.

Griggs, J. (2011). BP Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill. Energy Law Journal, 32(57), 57-79.

Institute of Medicine. (2010). Assessing the Effects of the Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill on Human Health: A Summary of the June 2010 Workshop. New York: National Academies Press.

Landau, E. (2011). Oil Spill! Disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. Connecticut: Millbrook Press.

News Basics: The BP oil spill, in brief. (2010). Web.