Commemorating the 9th anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon disaster

On the 20th of April 2010, the global public held their breath. At a depth of around 1500 metres, a massive rise in pressure led to an unexpected leak of oil and gas, which ignited, exploded and set fire to an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico. Eleven people lost their lives immediately. In the weeks that followed, more than 700 million litres of oil ran into the sea unimpededly. While British Petroleum (BP), the oil company responsible for the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, asseverated that they would do everything in their power to stop the oil spill, pictures showed dying seabirds, dolphins and other marine wildlife. The world witnessed a profound powerlessness of the company responsible, which hardly found any way to solve the problem they caused in the deep sea.

One year before that, attempts to stop the spill from the Montara oil rig into the Timor Sea, northwest of Australia, proved to be similarly helpless. For months a stream of “black gold” entered the sea unimpededly, followed by chemicals scattered across the sea in an attempt to bind the oil and dissipate it into small particles. Millions of litres of this chemical – the dispersant Corexit – were also used in the Gulf of Mexico to make the catastrophe disappear, at least from the eyes.

The Deepwater Horizon catastrophe had both immediate and long-term consequences. The entire habitat of thousands of species was affected, including fish, birds, corals, molluscs, reptiles, crustaceans and marine mammals, as well as plankton and a coastal strip of more than a thousand kilometres in length.

Lip service with expiration date.

In responding to an ongoing disaster, there is usually also a lot of work for the communications departments of governments and relevant ministries. While US President Obama then imposed a deep-sea drilling ban that was lifted a few months later, European decision-makers in particular tried to outdo each other in demanding a similar deep-sea drilling ban. Unfortunately, in most cases such calls were as sustainable as the term sustainability itself, which over time has been misused so often, that it’s now more often empty words than real content.

So, nine years later, let’s take a look at the Mediterranean. The oil industry uses sound cannons, which are a great danger to marine life, to search far deeper waters than those in the Gulf of Mexico, where the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe occurred. The Hellenic trench off Greece is up to 5000 meters deep and thus an important habitat to deep diving sperm whales and beaked whales. However, the Greek government hopes that opening the area to exploitation will be a quick way out of budgetary problems. The quest for hydrocarbons is underway in all other regions of the Mediterranean as well. OceanCare is working with civil society in many regions to promote a different way of dealing with nature. And this includes working for a shift in energy policies.

The interviews and press releases calling for a ban on deep-sea drilling would have long been forgotten if it weren’t for the Paris Climate Agreement, by which governments actually agreed on a turnaround in energy policy. OceanCare has called this to mind in the recent report REDUCE THE NOISE and called for renouncing the search for new oil sources. We need a phase-out strategy and the conservation of important habitats, starting with the deep sea. We stand for these demands – yesterday, today and tomorrow, and we will not let up until we have reached our goal.

We owe it to the marine animals.

Mournfully, I recall the hundreds of thousands of seabirds that, as they dived in their search for food, got their feathers coated with oil and died horribly thereafter; dolphin populations that now suffer from increased juvenile mortality; manatees and sea turtles whose habitats were destroyed. It is a very high price that wildlife pays for man’s irresponsible activities in the marine habitat. Too high a price.

In this context, I find the increasingly strong protest of young people for an active climate protection policy refreshing, important and indispensable and would like to encourage young people in their commitment. There must never be another Deepwater Horizon disaster. And in order to achieve this goal, we need to join our commitment and forces, both in political fora and in our everyday lives.


Sigrid Lüber