On April 20, 2010, British Petroleum’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico exploded, killing 11 workers and wounding 17 – and crippling the Macondo Well some 5,000 feet below the surface. The runaway well would spew crude oil into the Gulf for three months, creating the largest accidental marine spill in the history of the oil industry. President Obama called it the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history.
Officials “adjusted” estimates on the daily release of oil from the well several times. Initial estimates from BP and the federal government pegged the oil-flow rate at a relatively modest 1,000-5,000 gallons per day. Ultimately, officials dramatically increased that rate to 62,000 per day. The vast difference between initial estimates and the final determination of the flow has been the subject of some controversy. After a handful of aborted efforts to stop the oil from gushing into the Gulf, the well was capped on July 15, 2010 (and permanently sealed off by way of a relief well on September 19, 2010). In total, BP’s Macondo Well released approximately 5 million barrels, (or 200 million gallons) of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. To put that in context, the 1989 Exxon-Valdez spill in Prince William Sound, Alaska, dumped 260,000 to 750,000 barrels (or roughly 11 million-31.5 million gallons).
The BP spill has had – and continues to have – a devastating impact on the Gulf ecosystem and economy, as well as adverse effects on human health, both physical and psychological. The seafood and tourist industries were hit hardest by the spill, and neither have fully recovered, as new oil sightings and beach “re-oilings” continue up and down the Gulf Coast. Despite the government’s “all clear” on Gulf seafood, concerns over toxicity levels persist. Many independent scientists have shown data that suggests those concerns are warranted.
In addition to the oil, the U.S. Coast Guard used approximately 2 million gallons (an unprecedented amount) of the toxic dispersant, Corexit, to break down the crude. Despite warnings from the Environmental Protection Agency, the Guard applied the dispersant both on the water surface and deep below, injecting it directly at the gushing well head. Dispersant is not normally authorized for use sub-surface and that application appears to have sunk much of the oil to the floor of the Gulf – an occurrence that concerns many independent researchers.
BP struck a deal with the U.S. government to set aside $20 billion to cover cleanup costs and spill victim compensation. That $20 billion fund is being administered by attorney Kenneth Feinberg through the Gulf Coast Claims Facility. Roughly 500,000 claims have been filed by people who have been hurt financially by the spill.