chapter  11
42 Pages

A Gulf of Uncertainty

Many of the facts and uncertainties surrounding the BP Deepwater catastrophe dramatically underscore several of the recurrent themes in this book. The Deepwater Horizon offshore rig blowout in April 2010 killed eleven men and soon became the largest oil spill in U.S. history. At the time of this writing, it has been spewing oil for over two-and-a-half months and has no doubt exceeded in size the Ixtoc I (1979) blowout in the Gulf of Mexico. The actual size of the spill still remains a mystery, which typifies much of the uncertainty surrounding the event. By now it is reasonable to assume that the Deepwater rig has released over 200 million gallons of crude oil. BP is reported to have used two million gallons of dispersants, the most ever used in an oil spill. Despite an EPA directive issued on May 26 stating dispersants should be rarely used, the Coast Guard approved sixty-four exemptions in forty-eight days, allowing BP to disperse hundreds of thousands of gallons of the chemical on the Gulf ’s surface. These exceptions include occasions on which BP applied to the Coast Guard for permission after it had already used the dispersants (Wald, August 1, 2010). As of this writing, how this toxic brew has impacted, or may ultimately impact, the environment and coastal populations remains uncertain.