On April 20, 2010, the Deep Water Horizon exploded in the Gulf of Mexico; 11 oil rig workers died and dozens were injured. The fire burned for 36 hours until the rig sank on April 22. There is no end in sight to the human and ecological damage resulting from the Deep Water Horizon disaster. This is a list of events that we do know, along with a brief but disturbing list of what we do not know.
What We Do Know (as of Mid-June):
April 23 – Despite a growing oil slick, BP reported that an ROV showed there was no leak from the tangled wreckage.
April 24 – Faced with undeniable evidence, BP announced that the daily leak was 1,000 barrels (42,000 gallons) and that dispersants were breaking down the oil.
April 25 – 10% of the Gulf closed to fishing. Vacationers and recreational anglers began cancelling trips to the Gulf Coast, affecting thousands of small businesses.
April 28 – Using satellite imagery, NOAA scientists estimated the leak at 5,000 barrels (210,000 gallons) daily.
April 30 – Oil reached Louisiana's wetlands during waterfowl migration and hatching season. Birds were found trapped in oily sludge.
May 1 – Under BP's direction, the U.S. Air Force began spraying Corexit to break up the surface oil slicks.
May 4 – Oil reached the Mississippi Delta. BP denied that any oil reached shore.
May 9 – Oil reached Alabama's shores.
May 12 – Forced by public and government pressure, BP released a short video of the leak whereupon scientists calculated the flow rate to be from 20,000 to 100,000 barrels per day (840,000 to 4,200,000 gallons).
May 14 – BP announced a ship positioned over the leak that was "producing" between 1,000-5,000 barrels of oil per day but the leak continued to flow unabated; the leak was much more than NOAA's estimated 5,000 barrels.
May 14 – EPA stated that Corexit was neither the least toxic nor the most effective dispersant and demanded BP implement toxicity studies. The UK banned the use of Corexit due to its toxicity. BP continued to use Corexit.
While BP would not release toxicity information on Corexit, independent scientists stated Corexit causes neurological damage to humans and kills marine life.
May 19 – Oil entered the loop current carrying it toward the Keys and the East coast. John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park is directly in the oil's path as is manatee territory.
May 26 – Concerned about Corexit's toxicity, the EPA ordered BP to limit its use to 15,000 gallons per day and to monitor effects on water quality and wildlife.
May 30 – BP CEO, Tony Hayward stated, "There's no one who wants this over more than I do. I would like my life back."
June 3 – P and J Oysters in New Orleans shut down due to contamination of its oyster bed, a company in business since 1876 and one of thousands of businesses affected by the spill.
June 4 – Researchers announced 40% of the effluent gushing from the well is methane gas. Methane depletes oxygen and creates dead spaces in the water where nothing can live.
June 4 – Oil reached Pensacola Beach.
June 8 – NOAA confirmed the existence of oil plumes 30 feet below the surface. BP continued to deny the existence of underwater plumes.
June 15 – Lawmakers questioned why BP's faulty Gulf oil disaster plan is almost verbatim to Exxon-Mobil's and Conoco-Phillips's only to learn that one company wrote all three plans. (Plans include how to protect walruses in the event of a spill. Walruses have not lived in the Gulf of Mexico for over three million years.)
June 16 – The fishing ban expanded to over 80,000 square miles, 33%, of the Gulf of Mexico closed to fishing.
June 16 – BP Chairman Svanberg met with President Obama and stated afterward, "We care about the small people," angering hundreds of thousands.
June 17 – Oil reached Panama City Beach.
June 18 – BP reported dispensing 1,325,000 gallons of dispersant into the Gulf.
June 19 – All efforts to stop the leak have failed. Efforts to collect some of the escaping oil and burn off natural gas are woefully inadequate.
June 19 – The damaging effects of oil from an 189,000-gallon spill on Cape Cod in 1969 remain 40 years later. Oil from the Valdez spill in 1989 remains along Alaska's coast today; estimates are that less than 10% was recovered.
June 19 – Day 60 of the Gulf Spill – Using Purdue University's latest estimate that the leak is 60,000 barrels per day: 151,200,000 gallons of oil have spilled into the Gulf to date. That equals 105,000 gallons per hour for 60 days.
Wildlife including sea turtles, birds, and possibly one juvenile Sperm Whale (necropsy pending) are dead, while more oil soaked victims appear daily. Critical Sperm whale grounds south of the Mississippi are covered in oil. The Gulf is also a nursery for endangered Whale Sharks, Bluefin Tuna, sea turtles, manatees, and hundreds of other species. Fish caught on the Georges bank off the coasts of Maine and Nova Scotia begin in the Gulf. The marshes and wetlands along the Gulf coast provided breeding and rearing habitats for fish, reptiles, and bird species. It is sea turtle nesting season in the Gulf and over 300 sea turtles have died because of the oil while others struggle through the globs of crude to lay their eggs. If the turtle eggs hatch, the weak, tiny hatchlings, hardly bigger than a silver dollar, have little chance of making it.
What We Do Not Know
â€¢ When BP will be able to stop the gushing crude oil, natural gas and methane.
â€¢ The long-term effects of the toxic dispersants upon marine life, water fowl, the coastal fauna, the air quality, and the residents of the Gulf States.
â€¢ The effects that oil settling to the bottom will have on deep water reefs, oyster beds, fish, shrimp, whales, dolphins, sea turtles, and other marine life, much of it yet to be discovered.
â€¢ When those dependent upon the Gulf Coast's once bountiful
resources will get their lives back, if ever.
Becky Bauer became a scuba instructor and award-winning journalist covering the marine environment in the Caribbean after 30 years as a wild and domestic animal rescuer, rehabber, and educator in the states. She is a contributing photographer to NOAA.