There’s Little Environmental Impact from the BP Oil Spill?

BP Oil Spill Image

Workers collecting oil from BP Gulf of Mexico Spill

In somewhat confusing news the US government announced on August 2, 2010 that 172 million gallons of oil from the spill following the Deepwater Horizon accident made it into the Gulf of Mexico. The total size of the spill was 206 million gallons, or 4.9 million barrels, of oil. The difference in the two estimates is because the first figure takes into account only the oil that remained to make it’s way into the Gulf’s waters after fleets of boats and other measures were employed to recapture the oil. This is according to news from the Associated Press and appearing in the August 2, 2010 LA Times.

Then, after blasting us with this shocking news the White House turned around and announced two days later on the 4th of August as reported in the New York Times that only 26% of the oil spilled remained; that it was underwater or highly diluted; and it posed little threat.

An MSNBC report points out the remaining oil, roughly 53 million gallons, or 1.2 million barrels, is still significant. It is “an amount nearly five times the size of…the Exxon Valdez spill.”

To say the remaining oil poses little risk at this point is irresponsible in the best case and criminal in the worst. It will be years or even decades before the full impact of the catastrophic Deepwater Horizon explosion and resulting oil spill can be known. Take for instance the case of the Exxon Valdez where ecosystems are still recovering from the damage done to them and that was decades ago, with a far smaller spill. We cannot accurately predict yet what the outcome(s) of the Deepwater Horizon spill will be. Offering such a rosy picture at this point in time may lessen to some degree the fines and penalties imposed on BP, a company who should be held fully responsible for their negligent actions in this case.

The BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill is the worst Gulf spill to date, surpassing the previous record held by the Ixtoc well, operated by Pemex, which was drilling in the shallow waters of the Southern Gulf of Mexico. The Ixtoc spill, which was 3.6 million barrels is dwarfed by the 4.9 million barrels that comprise the BP Deepwater Horizon spill.

The estimate which places the remaining amount of oil in the waters of the Gulf at 26% is somewhat misleading as it includes oil which came out of the Horizon’s underwater piping but was captured almost immediately by BP. If only Gulf water contaminated by oil  is used to figure out the equation closer to 31% of the oil, or nearly one-third of the total spill, remains. This says there is somewhere in the vicinity of one million barrels of oil still in the Gulf of Mexico.

To say that one million barrels of oil poses little environmental risk to some of the most unique ecosystems in the U.S. is beyond shameful. Already massive beds of crabs, clams and oysters have been destroyed. Fish have perished. Many species of birds have lost their lives and sea turtles in the Gulf have found themselves suffocated by oil, or burned alive in fires lit to burn off excess oil from the spill. What other disasters await our wildlife and ecosystems as we wait for the remaining million gallons of crude to work its way out of precious Gulf ecosystems and into the food chain.

A factor which further complicates matters is the widespread use of dispersant chemicals in the Gulf. According to an article in the New York Times on July 31, 2010 the US Coast Guard approved multiple requests by BP to use dispersant chemicals despite an EPA ruling that the chemicals should only be used on rare occasions. There are also discrepancies between the amount of chemicals used as reported by BP to the Coast Guard and those reported by BP to Congress. The discrepancies are being investigated. Still in a 48 day period the Coast Guard received 74 requests for the use of dispersant chemicals, 64 of which were approved. Hardly what one could call rare  occasions by any stretch of the imagination.

The use of dispersants comes with its own bag of problems. Their use can cause oxygen depletion and lead to ‘dead zones’ in the water where plants, and therefore animals, cannot survive. Also, the long-term risks of the use of these chemicals is not known when they enter into the food chain, almost certainly contaminating, at some point, your dinner and mine.

We need to face some hard facts though. We need to decrease dependence on fossil fuels. They are a major contributor to air pollution, greenhouse gases and global warming. Crude oil is processed into everyday items you would never think of like chewing gum, hand lotions, and plastics, for a more comprehensive list of these products to help you determine how you can cut down on crude oil dependence go to WikiAnswers. The list might surprise you between products you thought helped take away from oil dependence, like ethanol to products like polyester clothing, dish washing liquid, and heart valves – no I’m not suggesting we should do away with heart valves, that is one the wise uses of products made from crude oil, the rest are all things we can learn to do without.

Becoming less dependent on fossil fuels in general and oil in particular won’t happen overnight, but it can happen. Try replacing one item from the list of crude oil derived products with a natural alternative, such as replacing polyester clothing with cotton. Try giving up your chewing gum. Where possible ride a bike or walk to work. If neither of those is possible try public transportation or a carpool. Hardly a clean means of transportation, but cleaner than the cars of the multitudes of people who would otherwise be driving their own vehicles work.

Go with alternative energy when it is offered by your electric company. I don’t know how it works where you live but in my community in North Carolina for a few cents more per kilowatt hour we can choose to purchase our energy from a green source that is either owned by the electric company, or a private company that re-sells its energy to the electric company.

There are many ways we can be part of the solution, not a contributing factor to the problem. If we are to put a moratorium on new drilling leases we need to decrease our dependence on oil. We currently have enough operational drilling rigs to meet our needs, no more are needed, but without responsible stewardship of our resources this won’t always be the case and our slavery to big oil could lead to the next Deepwater Horizon disaster. Who will we blame then?

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Reader Feedback

4 Responses to “There’s Little Environmental Impact from the BP Oil Spill?”

  • Tracy Riva says:


    Thanks so much for that information. The image showed up when I was searching for one from the BP oil spill to use from the internet. I’ll have to see if I can find a better image.

  • Tracy Riva says:


    Thanks, I appreciate your feedback. You’re right, there are so many disconnects between the “official” version of this story and the facts. Watch for a follow-up article in the future.

  • Craig says:

    Interesting article, you may wish to change the lead image though as it is a picture of the Chinese oil spill which happened at approx. the same time.

  • stephen says:

    Great article, and great attention to the facts and the logical disconnects of the government responses. The sad part is that the public responses on all sides of this disaster reflect the desire to please us in the general population that take the short-sighted view, and want easy answers and sloganistic conclusions from our government and our media.

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