An Island Has Disappeared. The Food Web Is Slicked With Oil. Do YOU Care?

When considering the geological age of the earth, five years wouldn’t even equate to a drop of water in the sea of time. Nevertheless, now that we’ve passed the five year anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, it’s clear that, over the course of just five years, one human-made catastrophe can severely alter our planet’s path. Consider this:

How have we gotten to where we are today?

We hope to answer this question with a brief, yet in-depth timeline of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. On this page, you’ll find the 2010 events that led to one of the worst environmental disasters in history. On page two you’ll see how, in 2015, these events have shaped the planet we call home.

Let’s start at the beginning.


Photo Credit: U.S. Coast Guard
Photo Credit: U.S. Coast Guard

– April 20th (Earth Day)

Transocean’s Deepwater Horizon — an oil rig leased out by British Petroleum (BP) — explodes fifty miles off the coast of Louisiana. Eleven workers are unaccounted for. In the following hours, a second explosion will result in the sinking of the Deepwater Horizon rig.

– April 24th

Admiral Landry of the U.S. Coast Guard announces that the Macondo 252 well, from which the Deepwater Horizon had been drilling at 5,500 meters (3.4 miles) beneath the surface of the Gulf of Mexico, has been leaking an estimated 1,000 barrels (42,000 gallons) of oil per day.

The well’s blowout preventer, a fail-safe that could have precluded the explosion and subsequent blowout, had failed. The failure was not wholly unexpected — or, it shouldn’t have been. This particular preventer demonstrated significant problems during the last inspection five years prior; and the battery, which only holds enough charge to power the device for one year, hadn’t been replaced since 2007.

Blowout footage from the sea floor:

– May 2nd

BP begins drilling its relief well, the only known solution to stopping the spill — a process that could take up to three months.

– May 16th

A tube is successfully inserted into the one of the leaking pipes, and it is able to divert 2,000 barrels (82,000 gallons) of oil to the surface each day — less than half of the government’s official daily leakage estimates.

– May 19th

Oil from the spill begins to wash ashore in Louisiana wetlands:

Photo Credit: NOAA.

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– May 27th

The Department of the Interior releases a statement with new spill estimates: 12,000 to 19,000 barrels (504,000 to 798,000 gallons) leaking into the Gulf of Mexico each day. Under the highest estimates, by this date nearly 39 million gallons have spilled, making it the worst oil spill in U.S. history.

– July 7th

Oil from the spill has washed to the shores of all Gulf states — Louisiana, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, and Texas. Furthermore, the oil has spread as far inland as Louisiana’s Lake Ponchartrain.

– July 15th

Eighty-seven days after the sinking of the Deepwater Horizon, BP temporarily stops the leak by capping the blown well.

By measuring the well valve’s pressure data, the Department of Energy is able to determine the most precise estimate of oil spillage yet: a time-varying rate of 53,000 to 62,000 barrels (2,226,000 to 2,604,000 gallons) per day.

A total of 4.9 million barrels, or 205.8 million gallons of oil spilled into the Gulf of Mexico.

– July 21st

Post-spill reports of wildlife casualties arrive: 184 sea turtles, 4 dolphins, 2,381 birds, all found covered in oil.

Photo Credit: Georgia Department of Natural Resources
Photo Credit: Georgia Department of Natural Resources

– September 16th

Finally, BP completes its relief well, and begins diverting Macondo 252’s oil into the new pipeline.

In the days that follow, crews cement and seal the defective well to end all further leakage…

Fast Forward Five Years »

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