Energy and Environment Reporting for Texas

The BP Blowout, 2 Years Later: Lessons Learned and Hopefully Not Forgotten

Photo by U.S. Coast Guard via Getty Images

Today marks two years since an explosion rocked the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico.

The blowout at the BP rig was more than just a spill. It was a disaster. Eleven people were killed in the explosion. Over two hundred million gallons of oil leaked into the Gulf of Mexico. It was the biggest accidental oil spill in history.

And now, two years later, what’s been the impact on the Texas?

“Well, I think the impact to the Texas coastline so far as I have read about it has been minimal. The oil went primarily the other way,” says Dr. Paul Bommer, a professor at the University of Texas. He was on a national panel of engineers that looked at the causes of the spill.

“It went to Louisiana,” he says. “Some went as far away as the Florida panhandle. But a lot of it appears to have been dispersed.”

Dr. Tad Patzek is the Chair of UT's Department of Petroleum & Geosystems Engineering .

“I would expect that many of the short term impacts have disappeared because of the warm climate and because of the abundance of microbes that eat lighter components of crude oil,” adds Dr. Tad Patzek, also a professor at UT. He briefed Congress on what caused the spill and served on a government advisory committee on drilling safety.

“But I would expect some of the longer term impacts on the sea life and the microbial populations and what have you have not disappeared,” he says.

Both professors say that since the spill the industry as a whole has made great leaps forward in both preventing and preparing for disasters like the Deepwater Horizon.

“I think the progress has been excellent,” says Patzek. He says new cap and containment systems are ready in case of another blowout. “There’s lots of new, shiny hardware deployed at the gulf of Mexico. And the cost was several billions of dollars.”

BP has also paid out 8 billion dollars to individuals and businesses because of the spill.

“It’s very difficult to convert into cash the value of human life,” Patzek says. “Eleven people died. It’s very difficult to convert into cash the value of your way of life. Or of your culture, right? So from that point of view justice will never be done.”

But after disasters like the BP oil spill or the Exxon Valdez, the question arises: Are incidents like these just a fact of life in an oil-dependent world?

“Well, I’d prefer not to look at it that way,” says Bommer.

“Although history probably proves me wrong.  There have always been disasters. But every time one of these happens, I hope we learn something from it.”

But whatever lessons are learned, Dr. Bommer adds, as long as humans are involved, there are likely to be more disasters like the one at Deepwater Horizon.


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