On the cold night of April 20th, 2010, the oil rig Deepwater Horizon, owned by Transocean Ltd, exploded into flames completely destroying the rig and leaving 11 workers dead. The subsequent damage eventually led to the collapse of the steel riser connecting the rig to the oil well two days later. After assessing the situation 5,000 feet below the surface, the oil well was said to be broken/leaking in three separate locations.
WHO IS RESPONSIBLE?
BP Plc, the majority leasing party of the rig, accepted full responsibility for the accident and vowed to clean up the mess, while officials went on record as saying that BP would not have the resources alone to contain the massive environmental impact caused by the spill. An estimated 5,000 barrels per day, or 210,000 gallons, will be leaking from the deep water well. BP has taken steps to stop the flow of oil, first by dispatching underwater submarines to attempt to turn a 450-tonne preventer valve. However, these attempts did not succeed. The next step is to form a pre-engineered dome over the leak and funnel the oil to a tanker waiting above, which may potentially take four weeks. If this does not solve the problem, a relief well will have to be tapped next to the problem well, connected to the leaking well, and the previous well sealed with concrete. This solution could take as much as two to three months, thereby making this incident more massive than the previous Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska in 1989. However, with the current pace, the approximate $2 billion paid by Exxon will be surpassed by the debts of BP as they are expecting at least $3 billion in losses.
WHAT’S BEING DONE?
Political panic has struck the nerve center in Washington, which was poised to pass legislation attempting to expand offshore oil drilling. With the occurrence of this spill, all plans for expansion have been suspended. White House Senior David Axelrod said, “the truth of the matter is we had Coast Guard on the scene almost immediately after this accident. The deputy secretary of the interior was on the ground next day, and we’ve been coordinating closely with the local authorities and [BP] officials from the very beginning,” in response to media concerns that the accident had not been handled adequately. President Obama also stated, “we’ve also dispatched teams to the Gulf Coast to inspect all deep water rigs and platforms to address safety concerns.” In addition, Defense Secretary Robert Gates dispatched approximately 6,000 National Guard troops. The Coast Guard has deployed booms in the local area to deflect and divert the oil, as well as using specially equipped C-130s with oil diverting chemical sprays. Another attempt to burn away oil reduced the amount of pollution by 100 barrels on Wednesday of this week, but weather complications have hindered the effectiveness of the booms and burning.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR THE ENVIRONMENT?
According to Ken Rosenberg of Cornell University, things are not looking good for the US Coastline. “It’s a full moon, a high tide, and its bringing the oil on a free ride right into the coastal salt marshes on a southerly wind.” In addition, he mentioned the devastating impact on birds, shrimp grounds, oyster beds, and fishing nurseries, as well as the permanent long term effect of an invasive oil spill seeping into the intricate marshes which line the Gulf Coast in Louisiana, Florida, Alabama and Mississippi. There are ten Wildlife Refuges near the spill, with the first to be affected being the Pass-a-Loutre Wildlife Management area at the tip of the Mississippi river. To give you an idea of how intense the situation is, and how fast it is spreading, take a look at photos published on Physorg.com showing the oil spill so far as viewed from Satellite Imagery.
These images are provided by Envisat via Physorg.com. The top picture is Medium Resolution Imaging Spectrometer. The bottom is the Advanced Synthetic Radar aperture. The top picture shows the oil spill as a dark blue swirl advancing towards Louisiana, while the bottom shows it as a lighter grey swirl.
In conclusion, this is a catastrophic event which will annihilate much of our remaining natural habitats in the area if not acted upon quickly and efficiently. Perhaps we can expect better regulation and increased awareness of alternative energy possibilities? Or maybe the only positive outlook from this scenario is that legislation attempting to be passed may get another look by Congress, hopefully turning their eye toward the most valuable asset that all of us share, the Earth.