BP’s 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill had a broader, deeper impact on life in the Gulf of Mexico than researchers previously thought, according to a new study conducted by Pennsylvania State University scientists.
The researchers documented their discovery of two partially dead deep-sea coral reefs about 14 miles east of BP’s blown-out Macondo wellhead, ground zero for the largest oil spill ever recorded.
Before the researchers discovered these damaged reefs, they only knew of one coral reef that had been devastated by the BP spill, but that reef was little more than 8.5 miles from the Macondo well and in much shallower water.
BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig exploded and sank about 55 miles off the Louisana coast on April 20, 2014. A surge of oil and gas through the Macondo well continued unabated for 87 days, resulting in about 206 million gallons of crude oil polluting the Gulf.
“Because of the physics of the release, as well as the extensive use of dispersants, most of the oil and gas remained at depth,” the Penn State researchers wrote. “In addition, weathering, burning, and application of dispersants to surface slicks resulted in a return of additional hydrocarbons to the deep sea.”
The study’s authors wrote that the impact of toxic hydrocarbons and dispersants on the Gulf’s deep-sea communities is “inherently difficult to assess,” offering one explanation as to why the BP spill’s wider impacts are just recently being discovered, and indicating that the devastation could be greater than earlier estimations.
BP, of course, has started systematically refuting all scientific reports connecting the Deepwater Horizon spill to problems in the Gulf. The oil giant responded to the Penn State study by arguing the scientists “prematurely linked” the deaths of the coral reefs near the spill site to the oil spill, saying that the oil could have come from other sources such as natural seeps.
But that argument fails in cases where oil from the site is collected and tested, as it was in Penn State study. The scientists defended their conclusions, saying they are able to prove that the oil on the dying reefs is chemically identical to that of the BP spill.