During the first week of July, we celebrated Clean Beaches Week. Since our main mission is to provide simple, reusable alternatives to single use plastics in an effort to clean up our coastal ecosystems, we wanted to take a quick dive into a tragic, but important event that helped shape the environmental movement in America. The Deepwater Horizon oil spill reminded us that the destruction of coastal ecosystems in pursuit of profits can not only hurt the environment, but also local economies and quality of life for those depending on the ocean.
Brief History of the Oil Spill
On April 20, 2010, the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico killed 11 workers and caused an oil spill that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) deemed the largest in US history. BP has since been found guilty of gross negligence in the events leading up to spill and was required to pay fines and penalties in the tens of billions of dollars. Below are some of these key contributing factors that led to the explosion. These factors paint a clear picture of how cutting corners on smaller projects can sometimes lead to lasting impacts on a much larger scale.
Oil rig construction weaknesses – It is standard procedure to pump cement to the base of the boreholes that drill to the bottom of the ocean to collect oil deposits. The cement prevents the oil and gas from leaking when the drilling bits reach the oil. On the Deepwater Horizon rig, the cement formation wasn’t strong enough or poured appropriately to handle the varying pressures that occur when deep sea drilling.
Technology and data problems – A team onboard the oil rig is responsible for monitoring overall oil rig safety and alerting the proper maintenance staff of any system or construction problems. Aboard the Deepwater Horizon, various safety readings were erroneously interpreted as “functioning normally.” In reality, serious construction and system failures were occurring.
Gas alarm failure – The alarm onboard the oil rig that was designed to alert the crew of harmful gas leaks malfunctioned and did not set off an alarm when leaks and problems with oil rig operations started to occur.
As the largest oil spill in US history, this event is key to understanding how damage to a regional ecosystem directly impacts our lives – specifically those living along the Gulf Coast.
Just weeks after the incident, large varieties of fish, sea birds and other aquatic wildlife were photographed coated in large amounts of oil. A study conducted on some of the fish that came in contact with the oil revealed conditions of irregular heartbeat, deformities in the internal organs of the fish and death of fish populations.
Some Gulf Coast residents who relied on the ocean for work lost their jobs due to the declining populations of sea life in the area. Many fishermen could not work because the oil-slicked waters made it difficult to find the few largely unaffected schools of fish. Popular tourism destinations along the “Emerald Coast”, including hotels, restaurants and recreational businesses suffered losses for many years after the spill because black tar balls and an oil sheen covered what were once pearly white beaches with crystal-clear water. Many tourists canceled trips altogether. See map below for an idea of the extent of the spill.
Luckily, after 10 years of remediation efforts, the tourism and fishing industry have largely recovered. But as scientists continue to research how deep the impacts were felt, it is unlikely that this is the last we will hear about the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
So as we celebrate clean beaches, let’s thank the scientists and volunteers who provided solutions for oil spill relief efforts – the countless crews who cleaned up the tar balls and globs of black goo on the Gulf Coast beaches, the researchers who worked to develop dispersants to combat the oil floating in the gulf, and friends and family that supported the hardest hit local businesses. Since the oil spill, we’ve seen communities band together to not just clean up beaches and work to conserve the local oceans and waterways, but also support one another. At Cypress Straws, we want to encourage and participate in this support network. We’re working to donate 10% of our profits to ocean research and conservation in North Carolina and other parts of the southeast.
We’d love for you to support our mission. Drop us an email to get to know us, get involved or just say hi! We can’t wait to hear from you.