On the Ocean

Deepwater horizon part 1: The Spill

On April 20, 2010, the Deepwater Horizon oil rig suffered a catastrophic explosion. Oil rigs drill into large deposits of oil beneath the seafloor. The Deepwater Horizon rig had been operating in the Gulf of Mexico, drilling in the Mississippi Canyon at a well roughly 5000 feet deep. The explosion was caused by natural gas blowing through a concrete seal in one of the wells, traveling through conduits to the surface before igniting. 11 workers were killed and 17 injured by the blast, which ultimately sank the rig. Fail-safes meant to close a blown-out well failed, compounding the problem, and pumping 3.2 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico by the time the well was finally capped in mid-July.

The ecological and economic impact of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill were massive. Commercial fishing in much of the Gulf of Mexico was suspended over fears of oil contamination, and thousands of employees who worked on oil rigs were temporarily unemployed when a moratorium was enacted on offshore drilling by the United States government. Additionally, the tourism industry suffered, as no one wanted to visit beaches covered in oil.

Scientists have studied the response and recovery of marine ecosystems affected by the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill in the years since the event. Though the spill was a tragedy, the information gained contributed to scientists’ understanding of the impacts of oil spills and response efforts on marine environments. Over the next few weeks, On the Ocean will be focusing on the impact of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill on Gulf of Mexico marine ecosystems and organisms.

This has been On the Ocean, a program made possible by the Department of Oceanography and a production of KAMU-FM on the campus of Texas A&M University in College Station. For more information and links please go to ocean.tamu.edu and click “On the Ocean.”

Contributor: Dr. Lisa Campbell

Script Author: James M. Fiorendino