Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Two Years Later… BP Oil Disaster Persists in the Gulf of Mexico

Scientist are still finding evidence of oil and its impacts in the Gulf of Mexico from the BP oil rig explosion on April 20, 2010 that killed 11 people and continued discharge of oil and gas from the well that lasted until mid-July. The disaster resulted in millions gallons oil fouling more than 1000 miles of coastline. Two million gallons of toxic dispersant were sprayed and pumped into Gulf waters to break apart the oil.

Two years later, although beaches generally appear clean, tar balls continue to occasionally washup in certain areas and the accumulation of tiny droplets of oil were observed in the swash zone where waves crash and washup on the sands of beaches along Florida’s panhandle. Tar mats buried by sand or vegetation continue to found and cleaned, and several beaches and refuge areas still need to be remediated.

A NOAA Oil Spill Response worker cares for an oiled Kemp's Ridley Sea Turtle

It will be years before the many long-term impacts of the BP Oil Disaster are well understood. The lack of baseline data for much of the region limits some of the science. Exploration and drilling and associated spills and leaks in the Gulf of Mexico have also had extensive impacts.

Here are some of the BP Oil Disaster impacts reported and more can be found in this recent NWF report. :

  • Heavy oiling of marshes was fatal to marsh vegetation and critters and birds living in these areas, and significant reductions in marsh biomass were visible following the disaster. 
  • Oil that matched oil from the blown-out Macondo well was detected in zooplankton in the northern part of the Gulf that serve as a food source for fish and larger marine life. 
  • Fish diseases were found to be high in areas impacted by the spill. Chronic contamination to oil and dispersants can compromise animal immune systems and damage cellular genetics which may lead to cancer or reproductive defects. 
  • Over 700 dolphins were reported dead between February 2010 and April 2012, according to NOAA. The unusual numbers of deaths and strandings began the March prior to the spill. The number of stillborns and premature dolphin strandings are also higher than normal. The causes of deaths remain unclear – but may be related to the oil disaster. It was reported that the government suspended seismic surveys of oil and gas deposits for a while due to the dolphin strandings. 
  • Many sea turtles, which were already classified as endangered or threatened, died during the spill and higher than normal number of strandings were also reported since then. 
  • A deep sea coral community that was severely impacted by the spill appears to be dying. 

We must do what we can to protect the East Coast and its ocean waters that support high diversities and abundance of marine life. The proposed airgun blasting to explore for oil and gas within the offshore seafloor from Delaware to Florida, which will likely lead to drilling in these previously protected areas, must not be allowed. Read more here and speak out at a hearing on April 27th in Atlantic City!

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