Deepwater Horizon disaster response fell short, leaving oil in the ocean and on the coast - Oceana USA
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August 5, 2020

Deepwater Horizon disaster response fell short, leaving oil in the ocean and on the coast


Offshore drilling comes with many dangers, including the risk of toxic oil spills that pollute the ocean and coastlines, shutter coastal businesses and destroy livelihoods in fishing communities. Oil spills happen every year but the disaster response in the wake of these harmful events remains inefficient and inadequate.

The 2010, BP Deepwater Horizon disaster spewed oil into the Gulf of Mexico for three months. Attempts to stop the flow of oil floundered alongside inefficient cleanup techniques. Ten years ago, the federal government reported that despite attempts to remove the oil, as much as 60 million gallons remained in the ocean, on the sea floor and on our coasts when the cleanup crews headed home. The leftover oil was more than five times the entire amount of oil spilled in the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster in Alaska.
Oil spills happen every year.

Hundreds of oil spills occur in U.S. waters every year. Offshore oil and gas drilling pollutes the environment at every phase of the process, including exploration, production and transportation. Between 2007 and 2018, more than 7,000 oil spills occurred in federal waters, an average of nearly two every day.

The industry allows large oil spill disasters to flow for months or years.

Following the Deepwater Horizon blowout, the leaking well could not be capped for 87 days leaving a massive footprint of oil, impacting nearly half of the Gulf coast. In 1979, the Ixtoc spill released up to 1 million gallons of oil per day for almost 10 months into the Gulf of Mexico. Off of Louisiana, a Taylor Energy spill was finally contained in 2019 after releasing up to 23 million gallons into the Gulf of Mexico over more than 14 years. The leaking oil is now collected and disposed of, but the well has still not been fixed.

Oil removal techniques are insufficient and out of date.

The Deepwater Horizon disaster showed oil removal procedures did not keep up with deep water drilling technology. Methods for cleaning up oil have remained largely unchanged since the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster. These outdated techniques include deploying floating barriers to prevent oil from coming ashore, burning the oil on the water and using chemical dispersants to break oil into smaller droplets. The government estimated skimming to remove surface oil gathered only 3% of the oil. Roughly 2 million gallons of potentially harmful chemical dispersants broke up only 16% of the oil.

It is reckless to expand drilling when we cannot prevent or adequately respond to spills.

Instead of curtailing offshore oil and gas production and focusing on the much-needed transition to clean energy, President Trump is proposing opening nearly all U.S. waters to offshore oil and gas production. We should not give industry the right to pollute our waters for more dirty fossil fuels.

This is the seventh piece in an Oceana series looking back at the repercussions of 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon disaster and highlighting notable moments that followed, as millions of gallons of oil spewed into the Gulf of Mexico. To learn more about the BP disaster, explore Oceana’s report, Hindsight 2020: Lessons We Cannot Ignore from the BP Disaster.

Explore other key moments in the series: Read about current efforts to stop the expansion of offshore drilling, BP’s failed attempts to stop gushing oil with junk and what happened when oil reached Florida’s beaches. Learn more about how whales and dolphins of the Gulf are still recovering and how the well was finally capped. Read about how hurricanes and offshore drilling are a dangerous combination.