Exactly 10 years after the BP Deepwater Horizon tragedy changed the Gulf of Mexico, communities across the Gulf are reeling from the impacts of another emergency.
On April 20, 2010, an oil well ruptured 5,000 meters under the ocean, causing a massive rig explosion that cost the lives of 11 men. Images of the burning rig and an ever-expanding oil slick were broadcasted into homes around the world and became part of our shared public consciousness.
But we also witnessed stories of bravery, ingenuity and sacrifice by Gulf residents. In the very first hours of the tragedy, a fleet of shrimp fishermen converted their vessels into oil skimmers and made their way to the site of the oil spill to capture as much of the oil as possible.
It took 87 days and multiple attempts for the Macondo oil well to be capped. By then, approximately 210 million gallons of crude oil and 1.8 million gallons of chemical dispersants flooded into our ocean. It became one of the worst environmental disasters in U.S. history.
Ten years later, communities along the Gulf Coast and nationwide are being put to another test. Unlike the vast oil slicks and chemical dispersants of 2010, the threat today may be invisible but it is already causing devastation.
We know that one of the most powerful ways we can stop COVID-19 is by adhering to “social distancing” — a phrase that was unknown to most of us before this pandemic hit our shores — to help our health care systems. This sacrifice is hurting Gulf communities that rely on a healthy ocean to anchor a host of industries like tourism. The shuttered businesses, closed main streets and empty tourist attractions could be bringing back painful memories.
Before COVID-19 swept around the world, Ocean Conservancy had plans to mark the 10th anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon tragedy with our partners in the Gulf region and in Washington, D.C.
We wanted to celebrate the unwavering community response to restoring the Gulf of Mexico. While there is still much more work to be done, it has been an inspiration to see coastal communities rally with scientists and policymakers to put recovery plans in place to implement projects onshore as well as in the open ocean.
We also wanted to honor the voices of millions of Americans that both rallied against this administration’s reckless proposal on offshore oil and gas development, and supported a permanent moratorium on oil and gas drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico.
Our push for important safety regulations and transparency — put in place as a result of the BP Deepwater Horizon tragedy — remains unchanged. Americans simply cannot afford shortsighted decisions that put us at risk of another major offshore oil spill.
Ocean Conservancy is committed to keeping these important issues in sight, even as we weather this pandemic together. For now, this decadal milestone is a reminder of the inherent resilience and courage that defines the people and communities that make this nation.
If there is one thing we can learn from the BP oil disaster, it is our resilience to endure and to rebuild after the storm. The world saw it 10 years ago in the Gulf of Mexico. We are still inspired by it today.
Janis Searles Jones heads Ocean Conservancy, a nonprofit organization focused on issues including restoration of the Gulf of Mexico after the BP Deepwater Horizon tragedy.