The Deepwater Horizon oil spill is widely recognized as the largest accidental oil spill in history. At the time of its explosion in the Gulf of Mexico on April 20, 2010, 11 workers were estimated to have died. As a result, over three million barrels of oil leaked into the ocean. However, the true extent of the spill was unknown.
According to the National Commission on BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, the disaster was caused by a series of technical failures. Some of the issues involved the gas flares and the lack of proper well control. Moreover, the rig’s blowout preventer failed to seal the well. This left some of the oil free to drift out into the sea.
Researchers are still analyzing the oil that poured from the Deepwater Horizon blowout. They are also collecting samples of water and sediment from the site. Their goal is to understand how the oil slicks are affecting the environment. A few researchers believe the impacts of the spill will be less severe than initially thought. Others are concerned that the oil will remain in the area for a long time.
The oil was chemically analyzed to see where it came from. It was found to have originated from a wellhead located approximately 5,000 feet below the surface of the ocean. Approximately 3 to 10 percent of the oil ended up on the seafloor, while the rest sank to the bottom. Using computer models, researchers were able to trace the movements of the oil.
Using an advanced robotic submersible, MBARI (Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute) sent a high-tech device to the Gulf of Mexico to examine the impact of the oil. It was able to map a portion of the Deepwater Horizon plume at a depth of 3,300 feet.
One of the key discoveries that researchers made was the presence of a thick layer of oil. This slowed down predictions of how quickly the oil would be dispersed. Additionally, the presence of hot oil meant that the oil was neutrally buoyant, the same density as the surrounding waters. It also impacted the ocean’s currents.
Scientists are also trying to determine the impact that the oil has had on deep sea corals and other ecosystems. For example, some believe that the oil will affect benthic organisms for a very long time. Meanwhile, others are unsure of how long the oil will be able to disrupt the habitat of seabirds.
In the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon disaster, many experts questioned the way in which the government responded. Ultimately, the final report of the National Commission on BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill concluded that the incident was due to a combination of technical and regulatory failures. Nevertheless, the commission emphasized that BP’s ultimate responsibility was for the disaster.
Throughout the cleanup process, BP Exploration and Production settled a number of lawsuits. BP agreed to pay a record-setting $5.5 billion Clean Water Act penalty. On top of that, the state of Florida reached a settlement with a non-operating investor.