The State of the Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill

Reader Contribution by Sean Rosner

As most of you probably already know, the current oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is shaping up to be one of the United States’ worst environmental disasters in recent history.

If you’ve missed out, or just want a central source of information on the event, here’s where things stand at the moment:

Everything started with an explosion on the British Petroleum-leased Deepwater Horizon oil rig on April 20, which killed 11 workers and left several others injured. When the rig sank and turned over two days later, oil from the well began spilling out toward the gulf coast at the rate of 200,000 gallons per day. See this New York Times interactive map for a visualization of the spill.

Area wildlife is at huge risk due to the spill, not to mention the region’s fishing and tourism industries.

The spill could potentially surpass the 1989 Exxon Valdez incident, which spilled 11 million gallons of oil into Alaska’s Prince William Sound. As of Saturday, the total size of the spill was estimated at more than 2 million gallons.

Perhaps the scariest aspect of the whole situation is that BP doesn’t seem to have a sure-fire way to stop the spill. The company has made several attempts to seal the leak at the source with remote-controlled vehicles, but has yet to be successful.

Cleanup efforts have been thwarted thus far by inclement weather that has caused rough seas, but with calmer weather today, BP has begun the process of installing a containment dome that will allow workers to capture escaping oil and pump it to the surface. The process is supposed to take seven to 10 days. In the meantime, chemical dispersants and oil skimmers will be used, and authorities are doing controlled burns of oil slicks approaching the coast. Of course, these methods raise environmental health questions as well, as lots of questions remain over the consequences of using chemical dispersants in an ocean environment and the controlled burns result in vapors that could harm people living near the coast. The Environmental Protection Agency recently set up a website to help monitor air quality along the coast.

The spill has brought a lot of attention to the offshore drilling bill that the Obama administration passed recently, and Obama has announced that he’s putting a hold on offshore drilling expansion. There may also be implications on the pending climate and energy bill.

If you’d like to contribute to the oil spill relief and cleanup efforts, you can sign up with the Sierra Club, or see this list of volunteer opportunities.