Deepwater Horizon

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The Deepwater Horizon was an offshore drilling rig owned by Transocean and leased to BP. On April 20, 2010, the rig exploded killing eleven. Two days later, the rig sank, and oil began to gush from the well. The resulting oil spill has been called the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history by President Barack Obama and others.[1] The oil continued to gush into the Gulf of Mexico until August. Following the spill, BP released millions of gallons of toxic oil dispersants, notably Corexit 9500, a chemical banned in the United Kingdom, into the Gulf of Mexico. The use of toxic dispersants made the spill more persistent and more difficult to clean up than it would have otherwise been, but served to remove the oil from the view of TV cameras and make it harder to measure, thus limiting BP's liability for the spill. According to government estimates from August 1, 2010, at its peak, the well gushed 62,000 barrels of oil per day, totaling an estimated 4.9 million barrels before BP placed a cap on the well on July 14, 2010. Only 800,000 barrels were captured, diverting them from flowing into the ocean.[2][3]

The Deepwater Horizon oil spill has now been classified as the worst accidental oil spill in the history of the petroleum industry.[4]

Where Did the Oil Go

NOAA put out a report in August 2010, accounting for the estimated 4,928,100 barrels of oil spilled from the well as follows:[5]

  • Recovered by BP: 827,046 barrels (16.8%)
  • Dispersed naturally (not by chemical dispersants): 763,948 barrels (15.5%)
  • Evaporated or Dissolved: 1,243,732 barrels (25.2%)
  • Chemically dispersed: 408,792 barrels (8.3%)
  • Burned: 265,450 barrels (5.4%)
  • Skimmed: 165,293 barrels (3.4%)
  • Remaining: 1,253,839 barrels (25.4%)

According to this breakdown, a total of 4,101,054 barrels were spilled into the Gulf. Of that, 165,293 barrels were skimmed, leaving 3,935,791 barrels in the Gulf. Another 1,509,182 barrels were burned or evaporated or dissolved, leaving the Gulf but polluting the air. Still, that leaves a total of 2,426,609 barrels in the water or in the wetlands along the shoreline, or half of the amount spilled overall. That oil, dispersed or not, is still there. The remaining 2.4 million barrels in the water and wetlands is equal to nearly ten times the amount spilled in the Exxon Valdez spill of 1989.[6]

Use of Toxic Dispersants

BP has used the chemical called Corexit as part of what it calls an effort to "disperse" the oil.[7] Oil dispersants are chemical products used to clean and control oil spills, often misleadingly analogized to dish soap because they work in a similar way; dispersants, like dishwashing liquid, bond to the oil molecules, which is then diluted in the water.[8] However, dispersants are not anywhere near as harmless as dish soap, and there is little knowledge of the side-effects of using dispersants.[9] Dispersants have also never been used to the extent used by BP in the Gulf of Mexico, reaching record levels that has resulted in over 700,000 gallons of the chemical dumped into the water.[10]

Oil dispersal means the oil is neither eliminated nor reduced in toxicity. [11] Dispersing the oil renders it impossible to trap, vacuum, or soak up along the shoreline, meaning both the oil and the chemical dispersant will spread into the ocean. [12] Spreading the oil via use of dispersant masks the extent of damage created by the oil spill by allowing the oil to flow into the ocean unnoticed where it will continue damaging marine life, rather than collecting on the shore. Id.[13] See more at the article on Oil Dispersants.

Toxic Chemicals in the Environment

Kim Anderson, a chemist from Oregon State University in Corvallis, said:[14] "A chemical spill in the ocean is what this (Gulf of Mexico) leak is, really... The crude oil contains diesel, it contains gasoline, it contains kerosene, it contains methane and it contains chemicals that are unfortunately, carcinogenic. Literally there are hundreds of chemicals in crude oil." Following the spill, Anderson led a team tracking the levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) at four sites off the coast of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. Tests showed that levels of PAHs were 40 times higher on June 7 than they were on May 1... even though the water appeared to be free of oil. Each chemical responds differently to tides, currents, saltiness of the seawater, and Anderson compares tracking each of the chemicals to "chasing bees from a smashed hive." Scientists also worry about oil that gets into the mud on the coast and from there enters plants through their roots.

Clean-up efforts already resulting in human illness

BP is ignoring health concerns

Stories of illness are already emerging from oil spill workers. Seven Gulf cleanup workers were hospitalized Wednesday, May 26th, 2010, complaining of nausea, dizziness, and headaches.[15] Some of the first responders who have been tasked with helping clean up the oil have reported symptoms of disorientation, shortness of breath, coughing, a feeling of being drugged, and fatigue.[16] For example, one reported feeling as though he was going to die and has been "coughing up stuff because your lungs fill up." Id.[17] Marine toxicologist Riki Ott has said the chemicals used by BP can "wreck havoc" on a person's body and even lead to death. Id.[18] Senior policy analyst of the EPA, Hugh Kaufman, likens the situation to previous toxic waste disasters, such as the World Trade Center and the Exxon Valdez clean-up: "There's no way you can be working in that toxic soup with getting exposures." Id.[19] Riki Ott also finds the situation reminiscent of the Exxon Valdez disaster, where the clean-up response resulted in thousands of sick workers. OSHA requires BP to provide fitted respirators[20], but these regulations go unenforced and workers in the Gulf are cleaning up the oil without even the protection of basic gloves.[21] The vice-president of the Louisiana Shrimper's Association is demanding respirators for all fishermen, stating the dispersant is poisoning the clean-up workers.[22]

Riki Ott is calling the current situation a disaster; fishermen are falling ill but not asking for necessary protection in fear of jeopardizing their jobs.[23] Gary Burris, a fisherman who is part of the clean-up force, stated many fishermen are working sick, afraid to speak out because it could cost them their job with BP, the only income they have now because of the oil spill.[24]

On June 9th, 2010, Congressman Nadler called out BP for ignoring these growing health concerns.

U.S. Government Spins For BP

In August 2010, White House energy advisor Carol Browner claimed that "about 75 percent of the oil had either been captured, burned off, evaporated or broken down in the Gulf of Mexico."[25] Even with this estimate, the amount of oil remaining in the Gulf equaled nearly five times the amount spilled by the Exxon Valdez in Alaska in 1989. Browner cheerfully noted that ""Mother Nature will do her part, but we'll continue to be vigilant to ensure anything that comes on shore, the tar balls, the sheen, is cleaned up rapidly."[26] Scientists refuted this claim as spin. For example, John Kessler of Texas A&M University said, "Recent reports seem to say that about 75% of the oil is taken care of and that is just not true... The fact is that 50% to 75% of the material that came out of the well is still in the water. It's just in a dissolved or dispersed form."[27] Ian McDonald, a Florida State scientist specializing in the marine ecology of Gulf oil rigs, added "There's some science here, but mostly it's spin, and it breaks my heart to see them do it."[28] See more in the article U.S. Government Cover-Up of Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill.

BP Claims $10 Billion Tax Credit for Cleanup

In July 2010, BP announced it had estimated its cleanup costs for the spill at $32.2 billion and was therefore claiming a $9.9 billion tax credit.[29] Initially, the White House refused to directly comment on this, only saying that the American taxpayers would not pay any of the cleanup costs from the disaster.[30]

Michael Brown's Remarks on Deepwater Horizon

Michael D. Brown, former FEMA Director infamous for his mishandling on Hurricane Katrina, accused President Obama of "playing politics" with the oil spill. Speaking to FOX News about the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in May 2010, "Brownie" claimed that President Obama waited for the spill to worsen before responding in order to turn public opinion against drilling.[31] He told the network's Neil Cavuto:

"This is exactly what [President Obama and his administration] want, because now he can pander to the environmentalists and say, 'I'm gonna shut it down because it's too dangerous,'" ... "This president has never supported big oil, he's never supported offshore drilling, and now he has an excuse to shut it back down."[31]

Waste from spill sent primarily to black and Latino communities

According to environmental justice scholar Robert Bullard, while much attention has been focused on the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster and clean up efforts, not much attention has been given to which communities were selected as the final resting place for BP’s oil-spill garbage.[32]

BP’s waste plan, “Recovered Oil/Waste Management Plan Houma Incident Command,” was approved on June 13, 2010. BP hired private contractors to cart away and dispose of thousands of tons of polluted sand, crude-coated boom and refuse that washed ashore. The nine approved Gulf Coast solid waste landfills, amount of waste disposed, and the percent minority residents living within a one-mile radius of the facilities are listed below:[32]

  • Alabama - Chastang Landfill, Mount Vernon, AL, 6008 tons (56.2%) Magnolia Landfill, Summerdale, AL, 5,966 tons (11.5%)
  • Florida - Springhill Regional Landfill, Campbellton, FL, 14,228 ton (76.0%)
  • Louisiana - Colonial Landfill, Ascension Parish, LA, 7,729 (34.7%); Jefferson Parish Sanitary Landfill, Avondale, LA, 225 tons (51.7%); Jefferson Davis Parish Landfill, Welsh, LA, 182 tons (19.2%); River Birch Landfill, Avondale, LA, 1,406 (53.2%); Tide Water Landfill, Venice, LA, 2,204 tons (93.6%).
  • Mississippi - Pecan Grove Landfill, Harrison, MS, 1,509 tons (12.5%)

According to Bullard's analysis of BP’s Oil Spill Waste Summary, as of of July 15, more than 39,448 tons of oil garbage had been disposed at nine approved landfills in Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, and Mississippi. More than half (five out of nine) of the landfills receiving BP oil-spill solid waste are located in communities where people of color comprise a majority of residents living within near the waste facilities. In addition, a significantly large share of the BP oil-spill waste, 24,071 tons out of 39,448 tons (61 percent), is dumped in people of color communities. This is notable since African Americans make up just 22 percent of the coastal counties in Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, and Louisiana, while people of color comprise about 26 percent of the population in coastal counties.[32]

Bullard say the pattern is comparable to 2009, when 3.9 million tons of toxic coal ash from the massive Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) power plant spill in East Tennessee was shipped more than 300 miles south by train and disposed in a landfill in rural and mostly black Perry County, Alabama. He argues that Environmental Justice Executive Order 12898, “Federal Actions to Address Environmental Justice in Minority Populations and Low-Income Populations,” signed by President Bill Clinton in 1994, requires the EPA and the U.S. Coast Guard to do a better job monitoring where BP oil-spill waste ends up to ensure that minority and low-income populations do not bear an adverse and disproportionate share of the burdens and negative impacts associated with the spill.[32]

Articles and resources

Related SourceWatch Articles


  1. Remarks by the President to the Nation on the BP Oil Spill, Office of the Press Secretary, June 15, 2010
  2. Erika Bolstad and Lesley Clark, "Government revises Gulf oil flow estimate to 62,000 barrels a day", Fresno Bee, August 2, 2010, Accessed August 8, 2010.
  3. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, "Deepwater Horizon MC252 Gulf Incident Oil Budget, August 2, 2010
  4. BP Leak the World's Worst Accidental Oil Spill, Telegraph UK, August 3 2010, accessed August 22, 2010
  5. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, "Deepwater Horizon MC252 Gulf Incident Oil Budget, August 2, 2010
  6. "Gulf oil spill is worst in U.S. history, estimates suggest", CNN, May 27, 2010, Accessed August 8, 2010
  7. David Gura, "EPA Administrator Defends Response To Oil Spill, Use Of Dispersants," NPR, May 25, 2010
  9. Leslie Kaufman and Elisabeth Rosenthal, "Worry About Dispersant Rises as Men in Work Crew Complain of Health Problems," New York Times, May 26, 2010.
  10. Leslie Kaufman and Elisabeth Rosenthal, "Worry About Dispersant Rises as Men in Work Crew Complain of Health Problems," New York Times, May 26, 2010.
  11. John Taylor, "Gulf Oil Spill: BP Trying To Hide Millions of Gallons of Toxic Oil?," Protect the Ocean, March 3, 2010.
  12. John Taylor, "Gulf Oil Spill: BP Trying To Hide Millions of Gallons of Toxic Oil?," Protect the Ocean, March 3, 2010.
  13. John Taylor, "Gulf Oil Spill: BP Trying To Hide Millions of Gallons of Toxic Oil?," Protect the Ocean, March 3, 2010.
  14. Dan Vergano, "Gulf oil spill released toxic, tough-to-track chemicals", USA Today, August 1, 2010, Accessed August 8, 2010
  15. Rob Stein, "Illnesses among workers highlight concerns about health risks of oil cleanup," The Washington Post, May 27, 2010
  16. "Fishermen Report Illness From BP Chemicals," WSDU, May 19, 2010.
  17. "Fishermen Report Illness From BP Chemicals," WSDU, May 19, 2010.
  18. "Fishermen Report Illness From BP Chemicals," WSDU, May 19, 2010.
  19. "Fishermen Report Illness From BP Chemicals," WSDU, May 19, 2010.
  20. "Regulations 1910.134," OSHA
  21. Gina Solomon, "Oil Spill Clean-Up Workers Getting Sick," The Huffington Post, May 28, 2010.
  22. "Official: Protect Health Of Louisiana's Fishermen," WDSU, May 27, 2010.
  23. Riki Ott, "Human Health Tragedy in the Making: Gulf Response Failing to Protect People," Huffington Post, May 19, 2010.
  24. "Fishermen Report Illness From BP Chemicals," WDSU, May 19, 2010.
  25. "U.S. Says 75% of Oil Gone, but Skeptics Remain", CBS News, August 4, 2010, Accessed August 7, 2010
  26. "U.S. Says 75% of Oil Gone, but Skeptics Remain", CBS News, August 4, 2010, Accessed August 7, 2010
  27. Suzanne Goldenberg, "Gulf oil spill: White House accused of spinning report", The Guardian, August 5, 2010.
  28. "U.S. Says 75% of Oil Gone, but Skeptics Remain", CBS News, August 4, 2010, Accessed August 7, 2010
  29. Russ Brit, "BP to claim $10 billion U.S. tax credit for Gulf oil spill costs", McClatchy, July 27, 2010, Accessed August 8, 2010
  30. Patrik Jonsson, "If BP qualifies for $10 billion cleanup tax break, should it get one?", Christian Science Monitor, August 6, 2010, Accessed August 8, 2010
  31. 31.0 31.1
  32. 32.0 32.1 32.2 32.3 Robert Bullard, "BP’s Waste Management Plan Raises Environmental Justice Concerns" Dissident Voices, July 29, 2010.

External resources

External Articles