Field of Science

April 20, 2010: Deepwater Horizon oil spill

An explosion on the BP-operated Deepwater Horizon oilrig in the Gulf of Mexico on April 20. 2010 and the subsequent oil spill for nine months has become one of the second-most presented, discussed and publicized environmental catastrophe in the last decades (the first would be Chernobyl).

Politicians, authorities and experts referred to the accident as "unprecedented" and were insecure of the amount of oil spilled, the area affected and the effects of the oil on the marine environment. One of the surprising consequences of an oil leak in 1.200m depth were large subsurface oil plumes, whose existence were first doubted or even denied.

Fig.1. The oil slick as seen from space by NASA's Terra satellite on May 2. 2010 (image from Wikipedia).

This posed a major problem in the estimation by traditional methods - areal or satellite images - of the oil amount released into the gulf.

The oil on the surface was more visible and BP tried to deny it, entrap it, burn it or disperse it with chemicals, however despite the efforts on April 29. first oil traces were spotted on the US-coast, which caused an immediate and immense media response.

The Deepwater Horizon accident is however not completely unprecedented, in 1979 a blowout from the Ixtoc I platform in the Bay of Campeche released for nine months in sum 454.000-480.000 tons of oil into the water - the world's largest peacetime oil spill until the Deepwater Horizon accident with estimated 500.000-627.000 tons.
Many of the effects and problems observed at the Ixtoc I accident however were seemingly forgotten, as it seems that today the consequences of the Deepwater Horizon accident are already forgotten.


JERNELÖV, A. (2010): The Threats from Oil Spills: Now, Then, and in the Future. AMBIO 39:353-366
SAFINA, C. (2011): The 2010 Gulf of Mexico Oil Well Blowout: A Little Hindsight. PLoS Biology 9(4): 1-5


  1. Thank you for this very salient comment reminding us of this spill and its history - like many things, what we no longer see many of us put out of our minds even though the oil and it's impacts may be very much there causing harm. Those pursuing a scientific assessment of the impacts of under water oil spillage, according to this article, have been disputing the official story from the White House & BP that the oil has substantially been removed naturally from the environment. Unfortunately showing 2900 square miles of ocean floor are not so easy to put up on a media outlet for easy public consumption.


  2. There was a non toxic Alternative to clean up the spill that has been successfully tested by BP after 10 months of spill damages. The Coast Guard sent a letter from headquarters stating to the FOSC to take action with OSE II, and the EPA, Lisa Jackson stopped the Coast Guard from allowing BP from implementing OSE II. In fact the EPA stopped the application of OSE II 11 times denying State Senators direct request for use of OSE II from Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. La Department of environmental requested the use of OSE II as well, EPA's Sam Coleman denied their request without reason. Governor Jindal tried to get OSE II demonstrated on the Chandelier Islands on May 6, 2010, and the EPA stopped the Governor as well. The EPA in fact stopped the use of OSE II 11 times, without a reason given. Had the EPA allowed Governor Jindal to allow the demonstration of OSE II on May 6, 2010, it is possible a significant portion of the environmental damages, including the shorelines and the seafood industry would have been spared. The toxicty test comparison between OSE II and corexit really cannot be compared since with corexit, the label states it can cause red blood cells to burst, kidney, and liver problems if a chemical suit and respirator are not worn. OSE II in contrast can be used to wash your hands and is non toxic. The BP Deep Horizon spill has proven that corexit only sinks oil and causes the same oil to be addressed a second time when it comes ashore as under water plumes, or tar balls, while OSE II has a substantiated end point of converting oil to CO2 and water. See Coast Guard letter below

    U. S. Department
    of Homeland Security
    United States
    Coast Guard

    Commanding Officer 1 Chelsea Street
    U. S. Coast Guard New London, CT 06320
    Research and Development Center Staff Symbol: Contracting Office
    Phone: (860) 271-2807

    July 10, 2010


Markup Key:
- <b>bold</b> = bold
- <i>italic</i> = italic
- <a href="">FoS</a> = FoS