The massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico caused by an accident on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig


© Reuters / Michael B. Watkins

The worst disaster in the history of offshore oil drilling began on the night of 20th April 2010, caused by an accidental explosion. Crude oil began to leak from the well under the semi-submersible Deepwater Horizon drilling rig. The lack of technology to seal off the leak at a depth of 1,500 metres, and the BP oil company's desire to safeguard its investment at all costs, allowed the disastrous leak drag on for the next 87 days. 4.9 million barrels of oil thus spilled out into the environment. Having a lower specific weight than water, oil rises from the seabed and floats on the ocean surface. This spill threatened the unique biodiversity that lives in the Gulf of Mexico, including corals, birds, cetaceans and turtles. Ocean currents washed the pollutants towards the American coastline bringing fishing operations to a halt, while for BP the damage was estimated at 65 billion dollars. These figures do not portray the Herculean efforts of the volunteers and operators who saved the lives of animals, collecting oil slicks from the ocean and cleaning the beaches. These were long, gruelling operations, with no guarantee of a full recovery. The chemical compounds were released into the environment in an uncontrolled way, increasing the risk of tumours. This accident shows just how fragile the world we have been given is: on the one hand how easily it is damaged and on the other hand, the struggle and vast periods of time required to cancel out the effects. The use of crude oil remains economically advantageous because, whenever there are accidents, the social and environmental costs are not included in the price. If they were, crude oil would have a different market value and would be much more expensive.

Alberto Claudio Alvisi