Deepwater Horizon oil spill, also christened the Gulf of Mexico Oil spill of 2010, is the most significant marine oil spill to ever occur since the dawn of the oil industry. It resulted from the explosion of a deep-water oil rig on April 20th, 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico. The deep-water horizon rig that exploded was drilling oil in the Macondo oil prospect. The well was positioned on the seabed, 1522 meters below the water surface and extended about 1800 feet into the rock. The explosion resulted from natural gas blasting through a concrete core previously laid to seal the well for future utilization. Afterwards, it emerged that a similar explosion had occurred in September 2008 on a BP- possessed rig located out in the Caspian Sea (Lauritsen et al., 2017). Both disasters resulted from weak cores that could not withstand oil pressure since the nitrogen gas used to accelerate curing was ineffective. The incident severed biodiversity, killed marine life, caused death and culminated in financial loss; nonetheless, it evidenced and created research gaps, such as the inability to seal the leakages fast enough and clean up the shoreline and waters quicker, for further investigation.
After the disaster, numerous studies sought to demystify the critical reasons for the incident and come up with efficient future solutions to similar catastrophes. From the investigation, it was unearthed that once natural gas was released from the fractured core, it traveled up to the deep-water rig's riser injuring 17 workers and killing 11 others in the process (King, Kostka, Hazen & Sobecky, 2015). The rig overturned and descended into the ocean, leading to the rupturing of the riser, that was injecting the drilling sludge that concentrated the mounting pressure that both oil and natural gas exerted, culminating in the oil oozing into the Gulf.
According to the original estimation, the bulk of oil that escaped the well exceeded 1000 barrels daily (Forth et al., 2017). However, according to a different study by the US government, over 60000 barrels escaped daily (Lamendella et al., 2014). Expounding on this, the catastrophe and its subsequent efficacious resolution, though not sufficiently, showed that the existing cleanup techniques were inefficient. Primarily, the inability to clean up the shoreline faster and salvage the biodiversity of the affected localities is evidence of the predominant research gaps. Additionally, failure to close the leakage soon enough and failure of various techniques as below discoursed further created a research gap. Ultimately, the incapability to produce harmonized numbers on the barrels that leaked daily as two different studies differed on this number created another gap. A further research gap exists in the case where the drilling companies are unable to come up with the best concrete drying mechanisms to build sealing cores under the sea. The use of nitrogen to enhance drying proved inefficient; therefore, there is a need to research on the best substance for the construction of underground wells.
Best Cleaning Practices
Assertive and aggressive efforts ensued this fateful mishap trying to contain the leakage. These efforts included the use of hydrates, gas molecules in a matrix of ice, created by reacting natural gas and cold water. Nonetheless, the technique failed (Lauritsen et al., 2017). Additionally, cleaners also tried using top-kill by directing drilling mud into the oil well to steady the oil flow, which also was unsuccessful. However, a solution was found when the LMRP cap was placed to stop the leaking temporarily. It was later removed to put a more permanent seal, which eventually ended the leakage. A cleanup strategy then followed it.
One of the methods used in cleaning up oil from the open waters was dispersants - substances that emulsified the oil and allowed bacterial metabolism. Also, booms were deployed to corral potions of the slick, and the collected oil was either siphoned or burnt. Manual removal was also employed immediately the oil began to contaminate (French et al., 2015). However, there were challenging states where the methods above could not apply; topography was interwoven together by dying plant life. As a result, tar and oil balls formed on the beaches of Mississippi, Florida, and Alabama. From estimations, 1100 miles of shorelines were polluted by the oil spill.
Challenges and Problems
There were several challenges in the management of the oil spill from the moment it occurred up to the time of successful cleanup. One of the difficulties was the inability to stop the spillage from the moment it started to leak. Several methods were used unsuccessfully. The use of top-kill to prevent the leakage was unsuccessful. It forced the operators to come up with a new mechanism that provided a temporary stopper for the leak as a way of reducing the rate of contamination. They used an apparatus known as the low marine riser package, which provided an alternative for stopping the leakage (Pares et al., 2016). Another challenge presented itself when reconstructing the two wells to retain oil. At this point, many researchers claimed the presence of subsurface plums of dispersed hydrocarbons. It had been dismissed earlier by the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration. However, further analysis revealed that the plumes emanated from the ravaging Deepwater spill and not as a result of the new construction. It also became a challenge to establish microscopic oil drops that leaked into the ecosystem. In fact, their incidence was discovered several inches thick on the sea flow, leading to doubts on earlier research on the speed with which the discharging oil would dissipate. Several research studies were, therefore, instigated to establish the real effect on the ecosystem, and they are yet to be concluded.
The Deepwater Horizon spill is one of the biggest catastrophes ever recorded in the oil drilling industry. It led to a series of multi-sector conflicts that necessitated legal means to settle. A criminal investigation was also launched to establish the cause of the spill, and various charges were filed in the courts to punish those responsible for negligence and subverting due process in the drilling process. It also led to new methods being established in fighting future spillages to avoid similar extent of loss and damage. Drillers have even improvised new means of keeping oil wells secure to prevent possible future leakages.
Beyer, J., Trannum, H. C., Bakke, T., Hodson, P. V., & Collier, T. K. (2016). Environmental effects of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill: a review. Marine pollution bulletin, 110(1), 28-51.
Forth, H. P., Mitchelmore, C. L., Morris, J. M., & Lipton, J. (2017). Characterization of oil and water accommodated fractions used to conduct aquatic toxicity testing in support of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill natural resource damage assessment. Environmental toxicology and chemistry, 36(6), 1450-1459.
French McCay, D. P., Jayko, K., Li, Z., Horn, M., Kim, Y., Isaji, T., ... & Zamorski, S. (2015). Technical Reports for Deepwater Horizon Water Column Injury Assessment-WC_TR14: Modeling Oil Fate and Exposure Concentrations in the Deepwater Plume and Cone of Rising Oil Resulting from the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. DWH NRDA Water Column Technical Working Group Report. Prepared for National Oceanic and AtmosphericAdministration by RPS ASA, South Kingstown, RI, USA.
King, G. M., Kostka, J. E., Hazen, T. C., & Sobecky, P. A. (2015). Microbial responses to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill: from coastal wetlands to the deep sea. Annual review of marine science, 7, 377-401.
Lamendella, R., Strutt, S., Borglin, S. E., Chakraborty, R., Tas, N., Mason, O. U., ... & Jansson, J. (2014). Assessment of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill impact on Gulf coast microbial communities. Frontiers in microbiology, 5, 130.
Lauritsen, A. M., Dixon, P. M., Cacela, D., Brost, B., Hardy, R., MacPherson, S. L., ... & Witherington, B. (2017). Impact of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on loggerhead turtle Caretta caretta nest densities in northwest Florida. Endangered Species Research, 33, 83-93.
Peres, L. C., Trapido, E., Rung, A. L., Harrington, D. J., Oral, E., Fang, Z., ... & Peters, E. S. (2016). The deepwater horizon oil spill and physical health among adult women in southern Louisiana: The Women and Their Children's Health (WaTCH) study. Environmental health perspectives, 124(8), 1208.
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