2011, Oceanography 24(2):200–211, http://dx.doi.org/10.5670/oceanog.2011.44
Nancy N. Rabalais | Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium, Chauvin, LA, USA
The gusher has ended, but before it did, an estimated 206 million gallons of crude oil and methane gas escaped from the Macondo well in lease block Mississippi Canyon 252. We know it better as the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill that resulted from a series of mechanical and safety failures leading to an explosion, the deaths of 11 workers, and the largest accidental oil spill in history. The well was in the northern Gulf of Mexico in 1500 m of water, not the deepest in this petroleum production frontier, but in an otherwise blue-water, pristine ocean home to deepwater corals and pods of sperm whales, and one of two spawning areas for Atlantic bluefin tuna. Satellite images of black oil at the surface marred this picture as the oil continued to spew from the ocean bottom and spread into the northern Gulf of Mexico. Innumerable lives were affected—from microbes to humans—and the world was transfixed by the continuous images of oil and gas blowing from the Gulf bottom while technology raced to catch up with Mother Nature.
In addition to being the center for oil and gas production in the United States, the northern Gulf of Mexico provides essential resources and services to the region and the nation: transportation, marine fisheries, tourism, recreation, and shipping and navigation. But the focused resource use by so many sectors has not come without cost. Although the region has been altered many times by natural forces, in modern times, human activities have reshaped the delta and degraded water quality, causing major losses of wetlands and creating the largest hypoxic zone in the United States. When the spill began in spring 2010, water-quality problems from excess nutrients already existed, triggering a world-class "dead zone" that expanded in size and severity throughout the summer. The immediate and dramatic insult inflicted by the spill's intensity garnered global attention, highlighting not only the spill but the many existing stressors that already threatened this valuable ecosystem.
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