On April 20th, an explosion on the Deepwater Horizon while drilling in an oil well off the Gulf Coast of Louisiana left 17 workers injured and 11 missing and presumed dead. Since that day, oil has been spilling from a BP offshore drilling well in the Gulf of Mexico.
The leak is currently discharging 200,000 gallons of crude oil a day, according to the official estimate, and efforts to manage the spill with controlled burning, dispersal and plugging the leak were unsuccessful. It is estimated that more than 6 million gallons of crude oil have spewed into the Gulf so far.
This oil spill is on track to become the worst oil spill in history, surpassing the damage done by the Exxon Valdez tanker that spilled 11 million gallons of oil into the ecologically sensitive Prince William Sound in 1989. Unlike the Exxon Valdez tragedy, in which a tanker held a finite capacity of oil, BP’s rig is tapped into an underwater oil well and could pump more oil into the ocean indefinitely until the leak is plugged.
The oil reached the Louisiana shoreline May 14, posing a serious threat to fishermen’s livelihoods, marine habitats, beaches, wildlife and human health.
The slick has forced the shutdown of the gulf’s rich fishing grounds and could also spread to the busy shipping lanes at the mouth of the Mississippi River, tying up the cargo vessels that move millions of tons of fruit, rubber, grain, steel and other commodities and raw materials in and out of the nation’s interior.
There’s no denying the impact this spill will have on the seafood and fishing industries, mainstays of the south Louisiana economy, but other industries may bgin feeling the affects as time goes on. Undoubtedly the tourism industry of hot spot summer vacation states will begin to feel the impact of this spill.
Though a total shutdown of the shipping lanes is unlikely, there could be long delays if vessels are forced to wait to have their oil-coated hulls power-washed to avoid contaminating the Mississippi. Some cargo ships might choose to unload somewhere else in the U.S., possibly driving up costs.