Last week, in the Gulf of Mexico, the Deepwater Horizon, an oil drilling rig for BP, exploded and sank. This has led to what potentially could be one of the worst oil spills in US history. Currently, oil is leaking at 42,000 gallons per day from a well 50 miles off the coast of Louisiana, and currently there is not indication that the well will be closed in the near future.
The worst spill in recent history would be the Exxon Valdez spill, in which approximately 11 million gallons of oil were spilled off the coast of Alaska. This disaster caused significant damage to the Prince William Sound, damaging the habitat that was home to salmon, sea otters, seals, whales, and birds. Affects of this spill are still being felt today, through extreme decrease in animal populations.
It is difficult to assess if this spill today will be worse that the Valdez spill. One major issue in the Valdez spill was the difficulty of clean up, as the area was not easily accessible. Obviously, the Gulf of Mexico is quite accessible. However, issues such as risk to animal and plant life are the same. There is even potential for these risks to be worse, considering there are larger populations of many animals in the gulf.
Finally, the Valdez spill was a one time spill and clean up effort. Right now, oil is continuing to leak into the gulf from the oil well. At the current rate, it would take over 250 days for it to reach the magnitude of the Valdez spill, but this steady input of oil into the system has the potential to make the problem even larger scale, especially if the rate of leaking increases. Finally, this spill is very close to the Mississippi river delta. If the spill reaches this sensitive area, there could be long term, irreversible damage to the area.
Currently, measures are being considered for clean up. The coast guard is currently considering burning the oil on the surface to prevent it from reaching the coast. The entire spill would not be burned at once, but instead it would be burned in sections. While they would mitigate the oil concern, there are other issues considering ash and pollution.
It is impossible to say what the right measure to be taken at this time is. Only time will be able to determine the long term affect of this oil spill. All that is for certain is that something must be done quickly to close the leak and clean up the area.
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