Water Resources Engineering (WRE) connects engineering hydrology and hydraulics with global, economic, environmental, and societal issues. Our student Ryan Shene makes this connection here…

The news entitled “The Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill” was reported by the New England Aquarium (NEA) in their July 15, 2010 online news.  The article relates to the hydrology domain of WRE and the specific issue of water pollution.  This news article reports on the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico that occurred from April 20 to July 15, 2010.  This 87 day oil spill was the worst in United States history and it was estimated that between 1.5 – 2.5 million gallons of crude oil spilled into the Gulf daily.  The spill was dangerous to animals such as sea turtles, dolphins, whales, birds, and fish.  The oil can get in the respiratory or digestive systems of these animals making it difficult to breath and in the case of ingestion the effects of the oil can be fatal.  In addition to harming the animals in the ocean the oil spilled caused damage to coastal wetlands in the United States.  These wetlands make up half of the US’s coastal wetlands; other wetlands in similar situations have been negatively affected by oil spills.  From my understanding of flow I know that a large hole must have blown out from the pipe and the oil must be pouring out very rapidly.  It is estimated that up to 2.5 million gallons per day spilled out, that is a rate of almost 30 gallons per second.  Due to this the hole in the pipe must have been sizeable and required more than a simple fix, which is supported by an article in ABC news; a 150,000 pound cap was placed on the well head in this extreme effort to stop the oil from leaking out (Blackburn).  The source is also credible saying that the oil can be detrimental to wildlife in the gulf.  Oil can damage animal’s immune systems, respiratory systems, and much more (Effects).  One area that the article did not cover was how the pipe burst and oil leak started or how it was resolved.

Water resources engineering is a wide field that affects the environment, the economy, and society.   The main effects of this oil spill were environmental and economic.  The extent of the effects of this oil spill have yet to be seen, but it may very well affect marine life in the Gulf of Mexico and in the coastal wetlands of the southern United States for many years to come.  In addition to its damaging effects on the environment the spill also impacted the economy.  Billions of dollars of oil were lost in the spill, doing millions of dollars of damage.  The Daily Green’s website provides information as to how the oil spill has affected and will continue to affect the environment and economy.  The oil spill was a threat to life of 400 different wildlife species and over 30 species of birds; it has also compromised 2,700 square miles of a total 7,000 of the Louisiana coastal marshes (Gerstein).  The spill destroys habitats and in many cases will kill the animals directly.  The Daily Green reports that as of June 14, 2010 the oil spill had cost BP 1.6 billion dollars, and that was a month before the spill had ceased.  After the spill 12,000 Louisiana residents filed for unemployment, mostly in the southern part of the state where they were directly affected by the oil spill (Gerstein).  The cause-effect between oil spills and damage to the environment and economy impact is simple – when oil spills occur, especially on a level such as this, large parts of the environment and wildlife are endangered and the economy takes a hit because of the money that is being washed away.

Figure 1 – Oil spilling into the ocean after the leak.  The contamination of the water has many negative impacts for the species that depend on the clean water to survive.

Figure 1 – Oil spilling into the ocean after the leak. The contamination of the water has many negative impacts for the species that depend on the clean water to survive.

Figure 2 – Darkened area of the map shows zones of large amount of surface oil in the Gulf of Mexico.


Blackburn, Bradley, and David Muir. “Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill: Well Integrity Test Shows Oil Stopped.” ABC World News. ABC, 15 July 2010. Web. 3 Apr. 2013. <http://abcnews.go.com/WN/gulf-oil-spill-bps-cap-success-oil-stops/story?id=11173330#.UVxPjnfqG6C>

Gerstein, Julie. “The Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill by the Numbers.” The Daily Green. , 14 June 2010. Web. 3 Apr. 2013. <http://www.thedailygreen.com/environmental-news/latest/gulf-of-mexico-oil-spill-facts>

“The Effects of Oil on Wildlife.” Austrailian Maritime Safety Authority. N.p., n.d. Web. 3 Apr. 2013. <http://www.amsa.gov.au/marine_environment_protection/educational_resources_and_information/teachers/the_effects_of_oil_on_wildlife.asp>