Updated: Jan 28
Photo courtesy of Unsplash
The most notorious oil spill in the United States occurred in 2010 when the Deep Horizon oil rig spilled over 210 million gallons of petroleum into the Gulf of Mexico (Soomro, n.d.; The Maritime Executive, 2020). The effects of this disaster are still being evaluated today after years of effort to recover. The Gulf of Mexico is a critical habitat for endangered species, such as the Kemp’s ridley sea turtle. This critically endangered sea turtle species relies on nesting locations along the western border of the Gulf of Mexico. Sea turtles experience natal homing, which means they nest at the same beach in which they were born due to imprinting on sand features and magnetic pulls (Morales Mérida et al., 2021). Although Kemp’s ridleys forage all the way up the east coast to Nova Scotia, the effects of this tragic oil spill on their primary habitat for nesting and hatchling development halted the progress of their recovery as an endangered species (The Maritime Executive, 2020). In addition to the Kemp’s ridley sea turtles, four other species of sea turtles also resided in the Gulf of Mexico during the time of the spill. This oil spill incident killed thousands of endangered sea turtles, and the recovery efforts to save hatchlings also resulted in further deaths (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, n.d.) Other species affected by the Deep Horizon oil spill included birds, marine mammals, fish, and shellfish (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, n.d.).
Over recent years, the United States has made significant strides towards reducing the occurrence of oil spills (American Petroleum Institute, n.d.). However, spillage of petroleum products still occurs and results in detrimental harm to the environment and wildlife. While oil spills can occur on land, they are most commonly known to affect marine environments (National Aeronautics and Space Administration, n.d.; Soomro, n.d.). Environmental organizations are working towards developing a combination of better prevention and recovery methods for these unfortunate events. Oil spills typically occur due to natural disasters, negligence, and/or the lack of effective policies that prevent these events from occurring (Mohit, 2022).
In recent news, there have been positive changes in establishing a clear definition for which “waters of the United States” will receive legal protection under the 1972 Clean Water Act (Newburger, 2022). This rule, issued by the Biden administration, will most likely have a positive impact on efforts that seek to decrease oil spills in the United States. The hundreds of thousands of water bodies that will receive federal protection from this change will now be eligible for government programs that help prevent future petroleum spillage (Newburger, 2022). This new distinction will not only help protect marine ecosystems, but will also promote improvements in human health by ensuring safe drinking water. However, there has been some controversy concerning this change to the Clean Water Act due to the effects it may have on farmers, miners, landowners, and infrastructure builders (National Public Radio, 2022). To learn more about this legislation, readers can follow the news for further updates. Readers can also play an active role in advocating for future developments of the Clean Water Act by hosting conversations with peers and voting for officials who support these changes.
American Petroleum Institute. (n.d.). Spills & Accidental Releases. ASI: American Petroleum
Institute. Retrieved January 2, 2023, from
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Cleanup. Marine Insight. Retrieved January 3, 2023, from
Morales Mérida, A., Helier, A., Cortés-Gómez, A. A., & Girondot, M. (2021). Hatching Success
Rather Than Temperature-Dependent Sex Determination as the Main Driver of Olive
Ridley (Lepidochelys Olivacea) Nesting Activity in the Pacific Coast of Central America.
Animals, 11(11), 3168. https://doi.org/10.3390/ani11113168
National Aeronautics and Space Administration. (n.d.). Oil Spills: Supporting Recovery Efforts
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National Public Radio. (2022, December 30). The EPA Finalizes a Water-Protection Rule That
Repeals Trump-Era Changes. NPR. Retrieved January 24, 2023, from
Newburger, E. (2022, December 30). EPA Issues Clean Water Rule That Repeals Trump
Administration Changes. CNBC. Retrieved January 2, 2023, from
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January 2, 2023, from
The Maritime Executive. (2020, April). Report: Wildlife Impacts Persist a Decade After
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