Deepwater Horizon, Two Years On

by Jo Foden, Cefas, UK

Deepwater Horizon  (Courtesy of U.S. Coast)
Deepwater Horizon  (Courtesy of U.S. Coast)

What are the effects of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, two years on? For the families of the 11 people who were killed, of course, their tragedy means life will never be the same.  What have been the environmental and economic effects of the oil spill?

It’s been bad news for the deep-water coral communities 1.2 km beneath the Gulf’s surface.  Corals were found with brown flocculent material and showed signs of tissue damage (Science Daily).  It is unusual for such deep-water communities to be affected but this spill occurred at depth.                                                                          

It’s also been bad news for some fish: a small proportion still show signs of diseases related to petroleum and other pollutants.  Those illnesses don’t pose an increased health threat to humans, scientists say, but the problems could be devastating to prized species such as grouper and red snapper. This, then, affects people who make their living catching them.

Whilst the Deepwater Horizon oil spill has undoubtedly caused problems, the one-off event looks modest by comparison to annual pollution from agricultural fertilisers.  The chemical pollution derived mostly from fertilisers that run-off into the mouth of the Mississippi Delta into the Gulf of Mexico has created a dead-zone.  Exceeding 21,000 km2, it is one of the largest dead zones to be found.

There were initial estimates that 22,000 jobs could be lost (Science Daily) but by February 2012 Louisiana’s unemployment rate recovered, to 7%: similar to the pre-spill rate (The Times-Picayune).  So the economic impact has actually turned out to be far less than imagined.  The scale of the long-term effects of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on society and nature has yet to play out but there are plenty of economists and scientists working hard to document every change, so that we can learn lessons and put in safeguards that help us to minimise damaging effects from future incidents.


Deepwater Horizon: fish still getting sick:

Louisiana’s economic recovery from BP oil spill has been quicker than expected: