Lingering impacts from BP spill in Gulf
When a BP oil rig exploded and sank in the Gulf of Mexico last April, killing 11 workers, authorities first reported that no crude was leaking into the ocean.
They were wrong.
The disaster that captivated the world's attention for 153 days struck at 9:53 p.m. CDT on April 20, when a surge of methane gas known to rig hands as a "kick" sparked an explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon rig as it was drilling the mile-deep Macondo 252 well off Louisiana's coast. Two days later, the rig sank.
One year on, oil from the largest spill in U.S. history clogs wetlands, pollutes the ocean and endangers wildlife, not to mention the toll it has inflicted on the coastal economies of Florida, Mississippi, Alabama and especially Louisiana.
It was the biggest ever accidental release of oil into an ocean.
Even so, environmental damage from the ruptured well that spewed more than 4 million barrels of oil (168 million gallons) into the Gulf in three months seems far less dire than the worst predictions, according to some Gulf residents and experts.
"It's a horrible mess but it's not the end of the world," said Edward Overton, professor emeritus of environmental sciences at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge.
"Some people thought it would be the end of the Gulf for decades and that's not even near the case," Overton said. "None of those predictions were right."
Such considerations are cold comfort to Gulf residents who saw their livelihoods decimated by the spill. More than 500,000 have claimed compensation from a $20 billion fund set up by BP -- at the insistence of President Barack Obama -- and administered by Kenneth Feinberg.
The mitigated view will also do little to stem the tide of litigation that will take years to make its way through federal court in New Orleans and beyond as plaintiffs seek to extract damages from London-based BP, which owned the Macondo well, and Swiss-based Transocean, which owned the rig.
"Fishermen are still worried that there's oil on the bottom of the Gulf. But we've got no control over that," said Errol Voisin, manager of the Lafitte Frozen Foods plant in Louisiana, who spoke ahead of a new shrimping season.
Photo shows a healthy brown pelican flapping its wings along Cat island in Barataria Bay near Myrtle Grove, Louisiana, March 31, 2011. Credit: Reuters Sean Gardner.