The Deepwater Horizon spill occurred on 20 April 2010 and was caused by an explosion on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig that killed 11 workers and injured 17 more. The drilling rig, located 66 kilometers southeast of the Louisiana coast, left an oil gusher that was finally capped on July 15, almost 2 months later. This was the largest accidental marine oil spill in history and the largest offshore environmental disaster in the United States (Telegraph, New York Times, BBC News). It is estimated by scientists that over 4.9 million barrels of oil were released into the ocean, about half of the crude oil the U.S. imports each day and worth $400 million (Popular Mechanics, CBC News). About 1070 kilometers of coastline were contaminated. Over 47 thousand personnel were deployed, 1.4 million barrels of liquid waste collected, and $40 billion spent on cleanup.
Aerial photo taken in Gulf of Mexico more than 50 miles southeast of Louisiana showing the Deepwater Horizon oil rig burning after a deadly blowout of an oil well. Credit: Gerald Herbert
The Gulf of Mexico contains commercially important aquatic life, including blue crabs, squid, shrimp, and fish. Toxins in the oil can kill these species or cause injuries such as genetic damage, disease, cancer, and reproductive and immune system impairment. Marine mammals, fish, reptiles, and birds depend on clean, healthy habitats to provide food, shelter, and breeding grounds. The presence of discharged oil in the environment can cause decreased habitat use in the area, altered migration patterns, altered food availability, and disrupted life cycles. Plants affected by the oil could die, eliminating the roots that help bind and stabilize the soil in the ocean floor, leading to erosi...
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