The Gulf Between Us
Stories of terror and beauty from the world's largest accidental offshore oil disaster
by Terry Tempest Williams
Photographs by J Henry Fair
THIS IS WHAT WE HAVE BEEN TOLD:
- April 20, 2010: the Macondo well blowout occurred approximately five thousand feet below the surface of the Gulf of Mexico, causing the BP-Transocean drilling platform Deepwater Horizon to explode, killing eleven workers and injuring seventeen others.
- 5 million barrels of crude oil were released into the sea from the BP blowout. On average, sixty thousand barrels a day were escaping from the well before the gusher was capped on July 15, 2010.
- 632 miles of Gulf Coast shoreline have been oiled: 365 miles in Louisiana; 110 miles in Mississippi; 69 miles in Alabama; and 88 miles in Florida.
- There have been 411 controlled burns on the surface of the sea, killing hundreds of sea turtles and untold numbers of dolphins. The number of deaths has been greatly underreported.
- Four hundred species of wildlife are threatened by the spill, including marine life from plankton to whales, dolphins, sea turtles, tuna, and shrimp; dozens of species of birds, including brown pelicans and piping plovers; land animals such as the gray fox and white-tailed deer; and amphibians, the alligator, and the snapping turtle.
- 8 million feet of absorbent boom have been used to contain the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico; 3 million feet of containment boom have also been set around islands and shorelines for protection.
- 2 million gallons of a dispersant called Corexit have been applied on and beneath the surface of the sea to break up the oil. It is produced by Nalco Holding Company, which has corporate ties to BP and ExxonMobil. The EPA, on May 20, 2010, gave BP twenty-four hours to find a less toxic alternative. Corexit’s known toxicity, acknowledged following its use in the Exxon Valdez oil spill, was denied by BP. The EPA’s request was ignored.
- On May 25, the EPA gave BP a directive to scale back their spraying of the sea with dispersants. The Coast Guard overlooked the EPA’s edict and granted BP seventy-four exemptions in forty-eight days, essentially rubber-stamping their continued routine use of Corexit.
- Defense Secretary Robert Gates authorized 17,500 National Guard troops “to fight the massive oil spill,” alongside an army of 42,500 individuals paid by BP to protect and clean up vital shorelines in the Gulf of Mexico. Over 5,300 “vessels of opportunity” have registered with BP, captains with their own boats being paid to look for oil.
- August 5, 2010: BP officials reported a permanent stop to the spill. Crews used a “static well kill” to plug the gusher with drilling mud and then concrete. Two relief wells at depths of 17,864 feet and 15,963 feet are being drilled to ensure a secure and final closure of the well.
- Amid reports of the oil in the Gulf being nearly gone, an article in the August 19 issue of Science describes the presence of a plume of hydrocarbons at least twenty-two miles long and more than three thousand feet below the surface of the Gulf of Mexico, residue from the Macondo well blowout. The plume was said to be moving in a southwesterly direction at a rate of about 6.5 kilometers a day.
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