Socio-economic impact of the 2010 Gulf Oil Spill


The 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has been touted as one of the most devastating oil spills in the U.S history. The disaster which took place on 20th April 2010 and lasted nearly 3 months before the leak was finally sealed was triggered by an explosion that set fire on a Deepwater Horizon oil rig. The oil rig in question was owned by Transocean, while the oil well belonged to BP (King, 2010). The oil rig eventually sank, killing 10 workers. In addition, the explosion led to the spillage of an estimated 60,000 barrels of oil into the Gulf over a duration of 87 days before the leak was finally sealed (Juhasz, 2011). Despite efforts by BP and the U.S department of Energy to seal the leak and clean up the spilled oil, the disaster had a huge environmental and socio-economic impact in the Gulf region.


The 2010 Gulf oil spill led to the loss of lives of 11 workers at the oil rig that collapsed and exploded. It is estimated to have led to the release of some 5 million barrels of oil and more than 500,000 tons of gas into the Gulf waters (Guarino, 2010). The fragile coastline was also not immune to the devastating effects of the oil spill, as hundreds of kilometers of the coastline were destroyed. The damaged well is estimated to have leaked 3.19 million barrels of oil into the ocean over a duration of 87 days. Consequently, the Gulf of Mexico oil spill was categorized among the largest oil spills in U.S history. The spilled oil formed soil slicks on the ocean surface. Strong winds aided in the rapid spreading of the oil slicks, effectively forming an oil plume estimated to run some 22 miles along the Gulf coastline (The Ocean Portal Team, 2016).

The oil spill also had a devastating effect on the marine wildlife in the Gulf of Mexico. Over 15,000 species of wildlife are estimated to live in the Gulf of Mexico under varying habitats that range from deep sea floor to coastal estuaries. The BP oil spill led to the death of laughing gulls and brown pelicans in the northern part of the Gulf, estimated at 32 percent and 12 percent, respectively (National Wildlife Federation, 2014). A 2014 report showed a four-fold increase in the death of dolphins in Louisiana, and this rise in deaths is linked to the 2010 Gulf oil spill (National Wildlife Federation, 20104). Dispersant and oil compounds have also been reported in white pelicans in the states of Iowa, Minnesota and Illinois (National Wildlife Federation, 2014).

A study of coral colonies across five different locations in the Gulf of Mexico have also revealed signs of considerable oil damage. The oil spill also led to the deaths of Kemp’s ridley sea turtles, estimated at between 27,000 and 65,000 (National Wildlife Federation, 2014). Ever since the oil spill, there have been a significant decline in the number of Kemp’s ridley nests spotted in the Gulf of Mexico (National Wildlife Federation, 2014). Some 817 bottlenose dolphins were estimated to have died between February 2010 and December 2010 (National Academy of Sciences, 2013). In contrast, only 100 bottlenose dolphins are reported to have died annual between 2002 and 2009, and this is a clear indication that the Gulf oil spill played a huge role in the observed rise in deaths of these marine species (National Academy of Sciences, 2013).

From an economic perspective, closure of fisheries in the Gulf of Mexico to facilitate in the clean-up exercise resulted in a 20 percent decline in commercial production of fish (National Academy of Sciences, 2013). Fishermen were faced with an immediate economic hardship as they could no longer earn their daily livelihoods as usual. The Gulf oil spill further raised public concerns regarding the safety of seafood from the Gulf, further reducing the sales of fish.




The 11 workers who lost their lives in the 2010 oil rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico came from the neighboring communities in states of Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi. The accident had a devastating effect on the communities where the victims came from. Their deaths had a direct impact on the lives of families, colleagues, and the community. This is a clear indication that the offshore petroleum industry had led to the establishment of strong ties among the surrounding communities. The explosion led to the largest oil spill in the U.S history. Estimates by the U.S. Department of Energy show that nearly 4.9 million barrels of oil had been spilled on the sea. In an attempt to clean up the oil spill, BP is reported to have used more than 1.8 million gallons of dispersant (Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, 2014). The effect of the oil spilled and dispersant used by BP in the clean-up exercise has raised concerns regarding the impact of chemicals used on the human health and marine life. These concerns led to the closure of fishing and oil exploration exercises in about a third of the federal waters in the Gulf of Mexico. The closure was not only aimed at facilitating in the clean-up effort, but it was also as a result of growing concerns about the possible contamination of marine life by the oil spill (Pallady, 2017).

The Gulf oil spill also had a devastating effect on marine life. The crude oil released into the Gulf of Mexico contained such compounds as PAH (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons). These have been shown to have toxic effects on marine wildlife. Oil that has been discharged in marine environments spreads on the water surface, thereby cutting off gaseous exchange of the marine ecosystem. It has also been shown to undergo weathering, leading to the release of harmful components that endangers the marine wildlife. The 1.8 million gallons of dispersants that BP discharged in the Gulf of Mexico was aimed at breaking oil slacks into smaller droplets, thereby facilitating in ease of cleaning. While dispersants are aimed at reducing the probability of oil slicks contaminating coastal marshes and beaches, the finer oil droplets expose other marine wildlife like coral and fish to harmful oil compounds.  Exposure of coastal marshes to oil tends to kill vegetation, thereby jeopardizing the lives of countless birds and fish that depend on this habitat (National Wildlife Federation, 2014).

The 2010 Gulf oil spill also affected commercial fishing in the Gulf of Mexico. There was a decline in the number of fish caught for commercial purposes owing to a closure of certain affected parts to facilitate in the clean-up of spilled oil. This in turn had far-reaching implications on the commercial fishing industry. For example, thousands of jobs were lost in the duration over which the Gulf of Mexico was closed, and this in turn led to emotional and psychological distress for the families affected. There was also a growing concern by health experts over the log-term effect of the oil spill on the marine species, and the implications that this could have on the consumption of sea foods. The oil spill is estimated to have cost the fishing industry between $ 94.7 million and $ 1.6 million. In addition, between 740 and 9,315 workers in the commercial fishing industry are estimated to have lost their jobs over a duration of eight months (Schleifstein, 2016). These events had far-reaching implications on families and communities that rely on the commercial fishing industry for their livelihoods.

BP incurred expenses amounting to nearly $ 37.2 billion as a result of the oil spill. This included the cost of grants given to the Gulf states, spill response expenditure, drilling of a relief well federal costs, and claims paid to victims of the disaster (Fahey & Kahn, 2012). However, there is a general feeling that the oil industry would incur higher costs that these in the aftermath of the BP oil spill. This is because the company is more likely to encounter challenges in winning oil drilling tenders following claims of negligence. Additionally, lawmakers would be compelled to revise legislation regarding oil exploration so that oil exploration companies are more accountable for their actions that could lead to related disasters.


The Gulf oil spill left an indelible mark in the U.S history. The oil was triggered by an explosion of the oil rig. Millions of gallons of oil were spilled into the ocean over the 87 days it took to seal the leakage. Consequently, the oil spill resulted in socio-economic and environmental impacts, including loss of lives, loss of gainful employment and hence income for local communities, the killing of thousands of marine wildlife, endangered marine life, and growing concerns over the long-term effect of the toxic cleanup on the marine life and humans through consumption of seafood



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