environmental sciences

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Describing The Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Environmental Sciences Essay

The Deepwater Horizon oil spill (also referred to as the BP oil spill, the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, the BP oil disaster or the Macondo blowout) is a large veolume of oil spilling ongoingly in the Gulf of Mexico that is now considered the largest offshore spill in U.S. history. Some estimates placed it arange the late May or early June, 2010, as among the largest oil spills in the world with tens of millions of gallons spilled to date. The spill stems from a sea floor oil gusher that resulted on April 20, 2010 Deepwater Horizon drilling rig explosion. The explosion killed 11 platform workers and injured 17 other people. (Deepwater Horizon oil spill, 2010, Wikipedia)

The quasi-official Flow Rate Technical Group estimated the gusher is flowing at 35,000 to 60,000 barrels of crude oil per day, originates from a deepwater wellhead 1,500 m below the ocean surface. The oil slick covers a surface area of at least 6,500 km2, with the exact size and location of the slick fluctuating from day to day depending on weather conditions.(Deepwater Horizon oil spill, 2010, Wikipedia)

Analyze the consequences

Multiple platform workers and supervisors expressed concerns with well control on March and April, 2010. About on April 20, 2010, methane gas from the well under high pressure shot up and out of the drill column marine riser, expanded onto the platform, and then ignited and exploded. Fire occurred on the platform. Most of the workers were evacuated by lifeboats or by helicopter, but eleven workers were never found despite a three-day Coast Guard search operation, and are presumed to have died in the explosion. After burning seriously for approximately 36 hours, the Deepwater Horizon sank on the morning of April 22, 2010. (Deepwater Horizon explosion, 2010, Wikipedia)

On the afternoon of April 22, 2010, a large oil slick began to spread and formed a rig site. Two remotely operated underwater vehicles unsuccessfully attempted to cap the well. BP announced that it was deploying a remotely operated underwater vehicles to the site to assess whether oil was flowing from the well. On April 23, remotely operated underwater vehicles reportedly found no oil leaking from the sunken rig and no oil flowing from the well. Coast Guard expressed cautious optimism of zero environmental impact, stating that no oil was emanating from either the wellhead or the broken pipes and that oil spilled from the explosion and sinking was being contained. However, the following day, April 24, Landry announced that a damaged wellhead was indeed leaking oil into the Gulf and described it as "a very serious spill". (Deepwater Horizon explosion, 2010, Wikipedia)

Potential risks of the incident

The potential risks are concerned the environmental effects. It classified into three groups as describe as followings: (Oil spill - Environmental effects, 2010, Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oil_spill)


Surf Scoter covered in oil spill as a result of the 2007 San Francisco Bay oil spill. ‘Less than 1% of oil soaked birds could survive even after cleaning.’(TreeHugger) The oil penetrates up the structure of the birds, reducing its insulating ability, and so making the birds more vulnerable to temperature fluctuations and reduce buoyant in the water. It also impairs the ability of birds' flight.

Marine mammals

Marine mammals are affected by oil spill in similar ways as seabirds. Oil coats the fur reducing its insulation abilities and leading to body temperature fluctuations and hypothermia. It also causes dehydration and impaired digestions. Because of oil floats on top of water, less sunlight penetrates into the water, limiting the photosynthesis of marine plants and phytoplankton.

Food chain

It decreases the fauna populations and affects the food chain in the ecosystem. Some oil-consuming bacterial occur naturally and will act to remove oil from an ecosystem, and their biomass will tend to replace other populations in the food chain.

Perform basic calculations/quantity to estimate the impact (including future impact if any) of the incident(s).

The recent oil Spill along the Gulf of Mexico can be considered one of the most serious environmental disasters in history. The effect of a spill of this magnitude is staggering. It’s been over 2 months since it occurred and there have been unaccountable casualties and loss of lives, human and non-human. Not only would BP oil company be affected directly, the rest of the world will also feel the effects directly or indirectly.

Direct impact:

Business & Socio- Economic Impact

The oil company (BP) loses a drilling platform and has to pay accounted for the related losses, bear the expense for cleaning and other business losses. BP has lost more than $100 billion in market value since the deep-water drilling platform incident. (CBC LOCAL 2010, BP Conies Report Tony Hayward Is Resigning)

The oil spill rate is estimated to be around 5-25 thousand barrels (210,000-1,100,000US gallons; 790,000-4,000,000litres) of crude oil daily. (‘Deepwater Horizon oil spill’ 2010, Wikipedia)

On June 9, BP said the cost of response to the BP oil spill to date is approximately $2.0 billion. This including the cost of the spill response, containment, relief well drilling, grants to the Gulf States, claims paid, and federal costs. (Cutler J, 2010)

Fishing industry

The impact from the spill negatively affects the neighboring communities. Fisherman from the area cannot go out to sea to fish because of this incident, causing the price of seafood to rise constantly, This area’s large fishing industry has suffered already. Authorities in Louisiana allowed shrimping season to start two weeks early to maximize the harvest before the oil reaches prime shrimping waters, though this special season has already concluded. Nearly 78,264 square miles (32% of the Gulf of Mexico federal waters) have been closed to fishing and as a result, at least 1,034 businesses may be impacted. Catching of Carb and Shrimp, Finfish, Fish hatcheries & preserves, and Shellfish represent $177.2 in sales volume.(Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill,2010, D&B)


Shipping has also been threatened. While oil does not damage ocean-going vessels, it will cling to their hulls. It is illegal for ships to enter U.S. ports or waterways if they will contaminate the waters. Incoming dirty ships will have to transfer their cargo or be cleaned, which takes time, and cleaning the ships may lead to delays and port congestion. (Business Insider 2010)

Even the tourist industry is affected. the hotels industry accroding environment is destroyed, it exceeds 90% of the business to reduce the losses of stream of people, even complete a course)

Environmental impact

Many beaches are now closed as clean-up efforts frantically work on removing oil slick from the sands. But the impact may be felt for quite some time as the oil continues to wash up on shore.

(8 Ways the Gulf Oil spill Will Impact You, The New Ecologist)

Aerial application of chemical dispersants are sometimes a method used for clean up. However these dispersed oil droplets can infiltrate into deeper water and can lethally contaminate coral. Recent research indicates that some dispersants are toxic to corals.

(Oil spill, Wikipedia)

Indirect impact:

Wildlife fatalities

Oil has the potential to persist in the environment long after a spill and have long-term impacts on fish and wildlife, interacting with the environment. Long-term effects on birds and marine mammals are less understood, but oil ingestion has been shown to cause suppression to the immune system, organ damage, behavioral changes, skin irritation and ulceration.

Birds: 1,746 birds collected, with 1,014 of these visibly oiled. 997 birds were dead; 749 were captured alive.

Sea Turtles: 528 collected; 400 were dead; 128 were alive.

Mammals, Including Dolphins: 51 collected in the spill zone; 47 of those were dead. Determination whether oil was the cause of death is pending for dolphins.

Wildlife biologists believe that many more wildlife will ultimately be killed by the oil, but their toll is hidden because their bodies have sunk in the open ocean, or been eaten by scavengers. By way of comparison, the Exxon Valdez oil spill killed between 350,000 and 600,000 birds, along with thousands of sea otters and other marine creatures. (Cutler J, 2010)

Diminished Wildlife Populations - Much wildlife will be negatively impacted by the oil spill. So far, oiled birds, otter, bald eagles, pelicans, turtles, fish, and dolphins count among those affected.

The negative affects of oil on organisms and ecosystems are well documented. Oil causes harm to wildlife through physical contact, ingestion, inhalation and absorption.  Oil is detrimental to the food chain in the ecosystem. This environmental disaster can turn this district into a ' Dead Sea ' because of how difficult it will be for any marine organism to survive. (8 Ways the Gulf Oil spill Will Impact You, The New Ecologist)

Health Risks

Oil spills not only destroy the environment, but they also distribute countless harmful chemicals to the human body, i.e. mercury, lead, benzene, toluene and many rings aromatic hydrocarbon organic pollution. Long term exposure to these decimals thought food, water, tactile contact can cause a series of health related issues i.e miscarriages, cancer and many more. Gulf of Mexico is the famous fishing ground of the world, marine produced account for 20% of total amount of American market, and leak the crude oil and pollute marine food chain, thus bury and jeopardize people’s healthy hidden danger for a long time. (Wang Di, 2010)

Heavy metals like nickel and vanadium from the petroleum industry and the resulting oil spill may leach into the shells of crustaceans. As other wildlife consumes these shellfish, they absorb the toxins into their bodies, and the result is a vicious cycle as the heavy metals bio-accumulate in the food chain. This will ultimately have serious, long-term consequences on the human health. (8 Ways the Gulf Oil spill Will Impact You, The New Ecologist)(Mann D 2010)

Global Warming Impact

This disaster, controlled burning of the surface oil causes the oil to decompose thus beducing the amount of oil on the ocean surface. This method although effection in clear the oil, releases CO2 into the environmental, during the process, increasing global warming effects.

Advantages Impact

The oil company BP is responsible

BP assumed responsibility for the initial clean up and mitigation efforts.

Organizational learning

Management commitment to safety, promote learning from past experience. Make a lot to guide safely. The chance recurs after day to improve this time to pass small

Increase the number of temporary employment opportunities

The oil spill cleanup can also generate economic benefits. Clean up crews and reporters covering the spill have replaced oil field workers and fishermen in some hotels and restaurants. Some fishermen have used their boats in spill cleanup. Companies that specialize in booms, chemical dispersant, hazardous materials training and other spill-related services experienced a significant boom in business. (Cutler J, 2010)

Analyze the contributing factors of the incident. Any human factor involved?

Deepwater horizon oil spill ,on the environmental concerns initially focused on oil spills for many fishing communities, as well as a wildlife preserve where the Gulf of Mexico coast caused by the effect . Now this oil column was found to show the contrary, many of the oil may emerge from deep under the sea to the marine organisms may lead to disastrous consequences.

To address the oil spill, oil widely used in addition to the potential ecological impact, and therefore raises questions; to date, research has not accurately measured by the scale of oil spills

In the choice of “Deep Horizon “oil well casing will be narrowed down to two casing. While clearly aware of a risk than one another, the management of selected high-risk but that the final paragraph. The engineer submitted to the top management of the internal report of the metal casing under high pressure will be “collapse.” But the top management also insists of using this tube.

Oil spill last line of defense as a “blowout preventer valve "at least three times leak fluid. Blowout preventer valve manufacturer, said earlier , this phenomenon will hinder the normal operation of BOP Valve


Oil spill could cause we do not see the depths of disaster, damage to sperm whales and tiny plankton.

Leakage of crude oil under the sea may affect the underwater food chain , "any fish and invertebrate species exposed to oil pollution are likely to die. "

As the depth of the relationship between oil spills Department, some elements of oil floating on the surface of the water in the process of separating, forming a separate layer under the surface. No matter how hard, the size of this oil column is a uninvited guest. [Environmental Protection Agency]

Emerge directly from the wells to the oil, may be more natural decomposition into small droplets without buoyancy, and in the sea of oil under the formation of such a column. But the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approved on May 15 under the water without a try in degreasing agents, may allow the formation of small droplets of oil. NIUST research team also studies the oil column, a few days before the announcement, the British oil companies approved by the EPD for the trial period, has been used in the seabed more than 100,000 liters degreasers.

Just these two possibilities itself, or both together, can explain the causes of oil column. However, she said, whether it was cracking crude oil or natural, on the environment will have a huge impact. [Environmental Protection Agency]

Although little oil washed ashore on the coast of ecosystem damage is very minor so far, but the coast is likely to face significant biological hazards.

Toxic elements released from the oil slick, a threat to life near the sea creatures, including an important position in the commercial marine products and their prey. Underwater oil column release toxins may also affect deep-sea corals and other organisms, the problem may be exacerbated as degreasing agents, because apart from the cracking of petroleum oil into smaller particles, so that animals are more easily inhaled.

Zooplankton such as living in deep-sea creatures may be oil column in the impact of low oxygen content; as oxygen diffusion to the deep sea is very slow and may take a long time to recover. Oil column will be a barrier to block the normal up and down many biological normal migration of organic debris will hinder the movement of molecules from the surface to the deep sea; these are very critical source of food.

We disrupted the efficiency of the entire eco- system, but how much impact effect will last long, can not say for certain.

Although the impact of deep sea oil spill is clearly visible, but accurate assessment of how much oil is emission from the wellhead, is more important. Official estimates , is 795,000 liters per day , but there are some groups question the data , further evidence of underwater oil column , the real leakage rate is much higher than the official data .

Estimates are reasonable, even if more precise leakage rate will not change response strategy. But some researchers still feel, to know the true size of oil spills, for understanding the biological impact of its comprehensive, determine whether large-scale use is the best option than oil, is very important.

Know the amount of leakage is very important, and cooperate with people to provide all possible information. The ultimate legal responsibility for damage, which may leak directly related to the scale, which in such cases is the principle for years. Asking them to clarify their financial adjustment plan, oil companies have to pay both all clears the cost of oil spills, and the resulting economic losses. BP declined to a potential oil column connection comment.

Oil spill case and the United States on whether to continue drilling the political debate, which at present is still spreading. British Petroleum in the May 16 report that they successfully inserted into the oil well out of the pipeline has a pipe, can be sucked away every day about 320,000 liters of crude oil; The company is also seeking several other Grab oil spill program, or takes several months before the oil wells drilled as an alternative, put oil spill closed.

The impact on the environment; if the extent of environmental impact, than anyone can imagine, then perhaps this debate will be one of the factors.

Lessons learned from this incident.

Therefore, governments and businesses should play their role better coordinate with each other, work together, and jointly deal with such contamination. For marine pollution incident occurred enterprises should prompt investigation of marine pollution causes of the incident, promptly inform the progress of events, to other rescue units Synergistic all the information needed and information to ensure prompt, timely and effective rescue and prevention work. For the government, to develop prevention and treatment of such emergencies contingency plans , should take the first relief , the principle of responsibility after the chase , in the event , rapid response and timely development of prevention programs , mobilizing all forces , fully engaged disaster relief , to ensure that sudden Marine pollution incident made to minimize the impact , and can not be held accountable first , then to carry out relief work , cart before the horse , not only missed the best opportunity to rescue and relief work , but also add unnecessary pollution .

Implications, Mitigation and emergency/reconstruction management

Mitigation and Prevention

Seafood Sensory Training- in an effort to detect oil in seafood, inspectors and regulators are being trained to sniff out seafood tainted by oil in the Gulf of Mexico and make sure the product reaching consumers is safe to eat (HENRY FOUNTAIN 2010)

Secondary containment - methods to prevent releases of oil or hydrocarbons into environment.

Oil Spill Prevention Containment and Countermeasures (SPCC) program by the United States Environmental Protection Agency.

Double-hulling - build double hulls into vessels, which reduces the risk and severity of a spill in case of a collision or grounding. Existing single-hull vessels can also be rebuilt to have a double hull.

Environmental Sensitivity Index (ESI) mapping

Environmental Sensitivity Index (ESI) maps are used to identify sensitive shoreline resources prior to an oil spill event in order to set priorities for protection and plan cleanup strategies. (Office of Response and Restoration 2010)( BRIAN SKOLOFF, Associated Press Writer Brian Skoloff, Associated Press Writer – Mon Jun 7) By planning spill response ahead of time, the impact on the environment can be minimized or prevented. Environmental sensitivity index maps are basically made up of information within the following three categories: shoreline type, and biological and human-use resources ("NOAA's Ocean Service Office of Response and Restoration" 2010)

Shoreline type

Shoreline type is classified by rank depending on how easy the garret would be to cleanup, how long the oil would persist, and how sensitive the shoreline is (NOAA 2002). The floating oil slicks put the shoreline at particular risk when they eventually come ashore, covering the substrate with oil. The differing substrates between shoreline types vary in their response to oiling, and influence the type of cleanup that will be required to effectively decontaminate the shoreline. In 1995, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration extended ESI maps to lakes, rivers, and estuary shoreline types ("NOAA's Ocean Service Office of Response and Restoration"). The exposure the shoreline has to wave energy and tides, substrate type, and slope of the shoreline are also taken into account – in addition to biological productivity and sensitivity. The productivity of the shoreline habitat is also taken into account when determining ESI ranking (Gundlach, E.R. and M.O. Hayes 1978).Mangroves and marshes tend to have higher ESI rankings due to the potentially long-lasting and damaging effects of both the oil contamination and cleanup actions. Impermeable and exposed surfaces with high wave action are ranked lower due to the reflecting waves keeping oil from coming onshore, and the speed at which natural processes will remove the oil.

Biological resources

Habitats of plants and animals that may be at risk from oil spills are referred to as “elements” and are divided by functional group. Further classification divides each element into species groups with similar life histories and behaviors relative to their vulnerability to oil spills. There are eight element groups: Birds, Reptiles Amphibians, Fish, Invertebrates, Habitats and Plants, Wetlands, and Marine Mammals and Terrestrial Mammals. Element groups are further divided into sub-groups, for example, the ‘marine mammals’ element group is divided into dolphins, manatees, pinnipeds (seals, sea lions & walruses), polar bears, sea otters and whales.( Response.restoration.noaa.gov. 2010-06-16) (Gundlach, E.R. and M.O. Hayes 1978)Issues taken into consideration when ranking biological resources include the observance of a large number of individuals in a small area, whether special life stages occur ashore (nesting or molting), and whether there are species present that are threatened, endangered or rare (NOAA 2008).http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oil_spill - cite_note-IPIECA_1994-20

Human-use resources

Human use resources are divided into four major classifications; archaeological importance or cultural resource site, high-use recreational areas or shoreline access points, important protected management areas, or resource origins. ( Response.restoration.noaa.gov. http://response.restoration.noaa.gov/. Retrieved 2010-06-16) ( NOAA 2008. Introduction to Environmental Sensitivity Index maps. NOAA Technical Manual). Seattle: Hazardous Response and Assessment Division, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 56p). Some examples include airports, diving sites, popular beach sites, marinas, natural reserves or marine sanctuaries.


There are four areas that such accident causes the relevant implications


The produced water generated from well drilling or production and including varying amounts of oil, drilling fluid or other chemical used contributes a long term and unknown impacts on the environment and it would draw public’s interests on the offshore drilling due to this disaster. It might improve the environment protection ordinances legislation and implementation works.

Some new cleaning methods including green cleaning agents might form for the elimination of the oil spill disaster as the existing being not environmental friendly and unknown consequences to the deep sea bed and all species in water


The extreme huge amount of compensation money paid by the BP, (over US$30 billion), and the relevant insurance companies would be paid not only the BP but the whole industry as the allocation of risk from the insurance companies to all other oil companies. It would than raise up the costs of production and finally reallocate to the customers through the commodity market.

Some new strict ordinances might launch by US Government as the short and long term impacts made the people very vigorous on the soft attitude of the government to the oil company. All the oil companies involved in the Mexico Gulf oil drilling would face big pressures from the government and the media on the control and prevention works

Government medical expenses would rise due to the negative health impact from the contamination.


More and more people would focus on the attitude and directions of the government to those oil companies’ poor performance. It also creates some new opportunities and demands on all green energy. Government would be pushed to input more resources on the exploration on new energies as partial substituent to the fossil oil due to such kind of disaster to the environment and the global warming problem.

More pressure groups would try to take the credits through the extreme wordings and more people might join the team and form new political forces.

Most of the people would focus more on the environmental friendly energy sources and thus encourage some new energy invention in long term aspect.

Oil Industry

BP would face tough questions from the public and shareholders on the losses and the poor risk management strategy. It might spread to the whole industries. More and more oil companies have to review and inject more resources to prevent and mitigate the disaster. Such reactions would erode part of the profit and rise up the unit rate of the fuel oil in the commodity market.

Public and government would request the oil companies in exposure of more internal information on how they design and select the drilling well and methods.


US government might re-implement the Clear Water Act again due to this historical disaster.

Those governments would spend more money on the environmental protection to mellow down the critics from the public and media.

US and EN governments would face big political pressures from the public and non-participating parties on the monitoring works on the oil companies. Relatively, the oil companies would increase the political campaign expense to the parties for the relief of the ordinances. It would be an endless game between the public and the oil companies but the parties would take more advantages from the issue.

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