The Environmental and Human Impact of the Oil and Gas Industry

The activities of the oil and gas industry have polluted the gulf waters, threatened local food-ways and livelihoods, and exacerbated land loss.

The Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill

Deepwater Horizon Offshore drilling unit burning during the 2010 BP Oil Spill. Public Domain image courtesy of the United States Coast Guard.

Deepwater Horizon Offshore drilling unit burning during the 2010 BP Oil Spill. Public Domain image courtesy of the United States Coast Guard.

A store in Grand Isle crosses out shrimp on their sign after the BP Oil Spill.

A store in Grand Isle crosses out shrimp on their sign after the BP Oil Spill.

On April 20, 2010 the Macondo wellhead, operated by British Petroleum (BP), began an uncontrolled blowout. Over the course of the next 87 days it spewed 4.9 million barrels (estimated by the US government) of crude oil.  The impact of this spill is immense and multi-faceted. The death of oil covered marsh grasses leaves bare land vulnerable to erosion. While the detrimental impact of the spill on commercial fisheries is well documented, academic studies as well as the media often fail to account for the losses of subsistence fishers.  Subsistence fishing is common in coastal communities and its interruption is both an economic and cultural loss.


Continual Small Spills and Contamination

Large spills such as the Deepwater Horizon spill garner the most media attention; however, smaller spills and contamination are common and often fly under the radar. The Louisiana Bucket Brigade is working with local citizens to document contamination. They place the tools to monitor air quality in the hands of individuals and have created an interactive map of citizen reported pollution.


Canals

Canals stretch in straight lines across the Barataria Basin in Louisiana, intersecting and connecting the winding natural bayous.

Canals stretch in straight lines across the Barataria Basin in Louisiana, intersecting and connecting the winding natural bayous.

Beginning in the 1930's oil and gas companies dredged canals to create cheap and easy transport for rigs and workers. By 1990 they had created upwards of 10,000 miles of canals. While the initial dredging of the canals converted as much as 16 percent of the Louisiana wetlands to open water, the indirect impact of the canals is far greater. The network of canals created by the oil and gas industry is ranked among the primary causes of coastal land loss by the United States Geological Survey.  The canals allowed for saltwater to encroach inland, which in turn killed off the vegetation and left the shoreline vulnerable to erosion. The canals and spoil levees (mounds of displaced soil along the canal banks) impede natural waterflow and upset the delicate balance of the wetland ecosystem. Additionally, canals create straight avenues allowing surging ocean waters to bypass the winding bayous and barrel inland during severe weather.