Impact of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill on the Environment

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The Deepwater Horizon spill occurred on 20 April 2010 and was caused by an explosion on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig that killed 11 workers and injured 17 more. The drilling rig, located 66 kilometers southeast of the Louisiana coast, left an oil gusher that was finally capped on July 15, almost 2 months later. This was the largest accidental marine oil spill in history and the largest offshore environmental disaster in the United States (Telegraph, New York Times, BBC News). It is estimated by scientists that over 4.9 million barrels of oil were released into the ocean, about half of the crude oil the U.S. imports each day and worth $400 million (Popular Mechanics, CBC News). About 1070 kilometers of coastline were contaminated. …show more content…
Undersea life there tends to grow slowly, so that subtle effects on reproduction may take time to become apparent. Submersibles in the area of the spill detected an enormous undersea plume of oil 3,600 to 4,300 feet deep and hundreds of miles long. Oxygen levels plummeted inside the plume, suggesting that ocean microbes were consuming the components of the oil. These oil-eating microbes occur naturally in the gulf and as much as 3,000 barrels of oil per day seep naturally from the ocean floor, making oil a part of the environment. Communities of tube worms have grown around the oil seeps, showing that some sea life has adapted to the oil. However, the oil remains poisonous to much undersea life, with deep corals being particularly vulnerable. Deep-sea animal life is adapted to a stable environment and is not suited to rapid changes of temperature and chemical composition. Microbes are more flexible, and are critical to the chemical balance of the atmosphere, consuming carbon dioxide, methane, propane, and heavy oil components (Harvard Gazette). These microbes are distributed widely in the gulf and can reproduce rapidly when they come into contact with oil.

The American Bird Conservancy has studied the effects of the spill on bird species in the affected region. The Gulf Coast is very important for hundreds of species of migratory birds that breed and
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