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BP Gulf Oil Spill Facts

When, Where and Economic Effects


The BP oil spill began with an explosion on the Deepwater Horizon rig on April 20, 2010. Of the 126 workers at the site that day, eleven were killed by the blast. Over the next three months, oil leakage in the Gulf of Mexico created the biggest oil disaster in the U.S. Scientists estimated 184 million gallons were spilled, 18 times the amount spilled by the Exxon Valdez. Satellite images showed the oil slick covered 25,000 square miles, impacting the shoreline from Gulfport, Mississippi to Pensacola, Florida.

1. Effects as of 2013

Shoreline Cleanup Assessment Technique Team
Nearly 10 million pounds of oily residue has been removed from Louisiana shorelines (between June 2011 - April 7, 2013). More than 200 miles of Louisiana shoreline still has this oily residue embedded in its marshlands, killing vegetation and causing the marshland to erode. While Louisiana was the hardest hit, Alabama, Mississippi and Florida shorelines were also impacted. Here's how much oil residue was collected between June 2011 and March 2013:
  • Louisiana -- 9,810,133 pounds
  • Alabama -- 941,427 pounds
  • Mississippi -- 112,449 pounds
  • Florida -- 73,341 pounds.

Impact to Fisheries

The oil disaster affected the cellular function of the killifish, a common baitfish at the base of the food chain. It's harmed the development of larger fish such as mahi mahi, and reduced the number of juvenile Bluefin by 20%.

Impact to Wildlife

In 2011,  half of the area's bottlenose dolphins have been compromised by lung disease. An NOAA study reported this type of disease is are caused by "toxic exposure to oil." Nearly 20% were so ill they weren't expected to live. BP has contested the study. (Source: WSJ, Sick Dolphins Tied to Oil Spill, December 19, 2013)

More than 1,700 sea turtles were found stranded (between May 2010 and November 2012), compared to 240 normally found a year. In addition, 930 dolphins and whales were stranded (between February 2010 and April 2013), compared to 20 normally found. To replace lost foraging habitat for ducks and other migratory birds, 79,000 acres of harvested and idle rice fields have been intentionally flooded. (Sources: Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, April 17, 2013; NOLA.com, BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill draws wide array of comments on 3rd anniversary, April 19, 2013)

2. Timeline of the Disaster

Photo: Chris Graythen / Getty Images

On April 20 an explosion rocked the $600 million rig. Prior to that, it was producing 336,000 gallons of oil per day, and had 700,000 gallons of fuel oil stored for operations. BP was leasing the rig from Transocean for $500,000 a day. A second explosion three days later sunk the rig. At first, it was reported that no oil was leaking. However, on April 24 the Coast Guard said that 42,000 gallons of oil a day was leaking from the rig at 5,000 feet below the surface. At that point, BP started trying to cap the well and stop the leakage. They first used robots to repair and activate a shut-off valve.

On April 28, the government announced the site was leaking 210,000 gallons of oil a day. The oil slick already covered a 5,000 square mile area. On May 2, BP started drilling a relief well to intersect the damaged well, and pump in mud and cement to close off the leak. The wells weren't successful until August. Until then, BP attempted to capture the leaking oil. On May 16, they inserted a tube that collected 84,000 gallons a day. Two days later the NOAA declared 19% of the Gulf to be a "no-fishing zone." The next day, thick oil started blanketing the Louisiana wetlands.

On May 27, scientists announced that the oil has been leaking at a rate of 798,000 gallons per day. On June 10, this estimate increased again to 1 million gallons per day. (Source: Time, 100 Days of the BP Oil Spill)

3. BP Disaster Worst American Oil Spill on Record

Worker cleaning oiled bird. (Photo: Justin Sullivan / Getty Images)

In its first month, BP spilled 30 million gallons of oil into the Gulf, three times the Exxon Valdez. Its economic impact will also be far worse. The Gulf fishing and tourism industries produce $3.5 - $4.5 billion a year. It will cost BP $4 billion to contain and clean up the mess, and another $4-$5 billion in penalties. At the time, the NOAA forecasted there was a 60% chance the slick would reach the Florida Keys.

4. Oilzilla!

Hurricane Ike (Photo: Getty Images)

Add the worst oil disaster in U.S. history to a hurricane season nearly as bad as the one that spawned Hurricane Katrina and you get - Oilzilla! The NOAA forecasted that 2010 could have been a near-repeat of the 2005 season, with as many as 14 hurricanes. "Oilzilla" would have combined the ferocity of a hurricane with the long-lasting effects of an oil spill.

5. Why the Gulf Spill Was Worse than the Exxon Valdez

(Photo: Chris Graythen / Getty Images)

The BP oil spill damaged the shorelines of four Gulf states - Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and Florida. Worse yet, it took three months to build the relief well to stop the flow. It immediately threatened more than 65,000 acres in four National Wildlife Refuges, home to endangered species. Approximately 40% of the coastal wetlands of the lower 48 states is located in Louisiana, and it's worth $96 billion.

6. Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Facts

(Photo: Justin Sulllivan / Getty Images)

The impact of an oil spill lasts for decades. In 1989, the Exxon Valdez crashed onto the shore of Prince William Sound in Alaska, contaminating 1,300 miles of coastline with 250,000 barrels (11 million gallons) of oil.The tourism industry immediately lost over 26,000 jobs and more than $2.4 billion in sales. By 2003, it still hadn't recovered completely.

7. Did the Oil Spill Create Any Benefit for the Economy?

(Photo: John Moore/Getty Images)

JPMorgan Chase calculated that oil spill clean-up efforts actually boosted the economy in 2012. BP spent $6 billion to hire 4,000 people to clean up the spill that year. This contributed more than the $700 million lost in fishing and tourism revenues and the 3,000 jobs lost to the six-month deep-water drilling moratorium. But that didn't count long-term costs, or things that aren't counted in GDP - like the value of human and animal life that was lost.

8. How Oil Affects the Economy

(Photo: David McNew / Getty Images)

Higher crude oil prices directly affect the cost of gasoline, home heating oil, manufacturing and electric power generation. For this reason, oil impacts the cost of everything you buy. Find out how.

9. How Oil Prices Are Determined

An oil spill could reduce supply and increase oil prices. Find out how oil prices are determined.  Article updated December 19, 2013

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