Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill - Mrs. DeNicola's Science Corner

Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill
The ecological and economical scare.
The Cause
On April 20th, a BP (British oil company) oil rig called the Deep Water
Hudson was deep-sea drilling for oil (5,000 feet underwater) off the coast of
Venice, Louisiana, and blew up, spilling thousands of tons of oil into the Gulf
of Mexico.
The Deep Water Hudson rig had been newly constructed due to a previous
rig being dried up of its oil supply. This new rig was drilling deep into the
Gulf to find oil.
People are claiming the explosion is due to a poor cementing job, which
resulted in natural gas combining with the oil underground to seep through
cracks in the cement, climaxing in the explosion.
(Another cause of oil spills other than rig explosions are ships carrying large
amounts of oil colliding with an object, and therefore allowing tons of oil to
leak from the ship into the water.)
Oil Spill Effect on
The wetlands of Louisiana that have become target to the oil flow are
covered in grasses called Spartina grass, with vast amounts of dead grass
underwater. Called “a big sponge,” there’s no way to wash oil out of a
Spartina marsh; it has to be self-cleansed over time.
The oil hitting the marshes is not as toxic as it is extremely sticky. This
however proves an issue because the oil could coat the grasses, killing
If the marshes are wiped out, Louisiana’s fast-eroding coast will now be
subject to the harsh ocean waves that the marshes previously acted as a
natural barrier from.
Rocks on the shore along with the shore itself are being covered in oil
washed up by the waves, and it proves awful timing as wildlife such as birds
and sea turtles are coming to the sandy beaches, along with the marshes,
to reproduce.
Effects on Wildlife
Oil is damaging for birds because it coats
their feathers and destroys the natural
chemistry that allows them to stay buoyant,
along with keeping them warm and able to
fly. When they preen and attempt to
cleanse themselves of the oil on their
feathers, the oil they can be swallowing will
poison them.
Dolphins, who must surface to breathe, are
being poisoned from the inhalation of oil
Tiny shrimps, just hatched and only a few
millimeters long, will be swimming at the oilcovered ocean surface.
Alligators, who are nearing nesting season,
could be at risk of consuming oil as they
Fish swimming in ocean areas engulfed in
oil are being covered with and poisoned by
the oil.
It is hatching and “raising” season for many
animal species that reside in the Gulf of
Mexico. Doing so could be a risk to bringing
sensitive young animals in contact with toxic
oil, along with the risk of the parents diving
into oily water searching for food.
Effect on the Economy
Louisiana produces 10% of all seafood that is sold throughout the United
States. Fish, shrimp, and other commonly consumed seafood have not
been as abundant as prior to the spill; many have been killed by the toxic
The above issue proves an issue for people, such as those who live around
the bayous, because their income relies on them catching and selling
seafood. With the oil closing in on bayou areas (that are abundant with
marine wildlife/seafood), many fear unemployment and a drastic slope
involving income.
Due to the oil spill, about 25% of fishing areas in the Gulf of Mexico have
been temporarily placed off limits for fishing, in efforts to conserve what is
left of the marine wildlife, along with ensuring that no contaminated seafood
is sold. This, of course, therefore hinders the fishing economy.
Oil is Spreading Fast
What is Being Proposed/What Can Be
Done to Prevent Oil Spills
Recently BP has been attempting to send sea-robots 5,000 feet underwater to
engage the blowout preventer and turn off the flow – however, the blowout preventer
is failing to operate properly.
Another suggested solution is to drill a second well that will intercept the original well
and inject a special heavy fluid that would hopefully cut off the flow of oil. This
however can take several months to construct.
Yet another possibility is designing an underwater collection device shaped like a
dome that would trap the oil as is came out, and then funnel it for collection. It is being
created now, but success is unknown; these collection devices have only been used
in shallow water previous to the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.
Deploy floating barriers to trap oil.
Spray chemical dispersants on the oil on the water’s surface to break it down –
however these chemicals have been proven to be a possible threat to marine wildlife.
A common approach is burning oil that lies on the surface. Since water is polar and
lipids and oils are non-polar, the oil lays on the ocean surface, separated from the
water. It is due to this that burning oil off the surface of the water is possible.
Our Solution
Have a dome constructed around the oil rig so that the oil that escapes is
contained and cannot spread; this oil can then be funneled and collected.
While the dome is being constructed, we have to find another way to
control the oil that has and currently is escaping from the rig. One of the
main concerns is that the oil has dispersed throughout large areas and
appears unavoidable for marine life. Instead of spraying harmful chemicals
that attempt to disperse the oil further, we could have chemists create a
non-polar substance that would attract/cause the oil to condense, and
therefore be in isolated areas rather than spread out in the ocean.
Moreover, collection becomes more effective.
The reason that vast amounts of drilling occur is because of the demand
for oil/gasoline. In general, we can try to conserve gasoline by walking
short distances rather than driving. If we all participate in this effort the
need for oil will be decreased, and therefore not as much drilling is
required. Hopefully, rig explosions would then be less common.
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