Analysis: The five year anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon Gulf of Mexico oil spill

The Deepwater Horizon offshore drilling platform on fire.Photo credit: ideum via Flickr.
By Anders Lorenzen

The most talked about oil spill in history, BP’s Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico, happened five years ago, this week, on the 20th of April 2010.

It was the biggest oil spill ever in US waters and was responsible for the death of 11 people. It caused 4.9 million barrels of oil to be leaked into the Gulf of Mexico, impacting bird and marine life and local industry for years to come.

Five years down the line, the region is a shadow of what it used to be with financial hardship a daily reality. Its large fishing industry, largely based on oysters, has almost come to a standstill, sending financial shockwaves through the community, tourism and property.

The company responsible for the disaster, the British oil major BP, too has seen better times. Lawsuits are rife, shareholders are unhappy, profits are falling and a proposed merger with Russia’s Rosneft has fallen through. Whilst their arch competitor Shell carries on with risky and expensive Arctic drilling projects, BP can only stand by and fight for its survival.

Environmentalists cite the six months it took to fully close the Deepwater Horizon leak as an example of why Arctic drilling is too dangerous. To mobilise such a large clean up operation in the hostile and unpredictable Arctic would be too expensive and complex.

The disaster has also been the focus of a host of documentaries, the latest being the ‘The Great Invisible’ released last year. In it, Director Margaret Brown views the disaster through the eyes of people affected by the disaster, ranging from industry insiders, small time fishermen to lawyers and survivors. The film gives a damning verdict of the industry’s ability to respond to such a disastrous catastrophe.
Whilst media attention has moved on since the the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the local community has not. With lives still affected by the demise of an active local economy, the anger with big oil and of course BP is larger than ever.  

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