On April 20 2010, an explosion at a BP offshore drilling oil rig not only left 11 crew workers dead, but also sparked the largest and most devastating ecological disaster in American history. The short-term effects of the oil spill include the immediate suspension of offshore drilling, the closure of fisheries dependent upon the Gulf, and the desperate struggle to remove injured marine life from the polluted water. Although the long-term impact of the oil spill remains undiscovered, Rutgers University students, as well as environmental specialists, are more than willing to share their thoughts and opinions.
The most obvious long-term consequence of the oil spill involves the severe environmental damage in the Gulf of Mexico. Arielle L’Esperance, a senior at Rutgers University, shares her grief over the tragedy: “The thing that most upsets me about the oil spill is the amount of environment and wildlife that has been destroyed. Hundreds of miles of ocean and beach were devastated. One of the richest ecosystems in the world is debilitated and the amount of animals harmed is unforgivable.” However, she also remains optimistic and hopes that “perhaps the oil spill will alert people of our unfortunate dependence on oil and its limited supply. It is clear that offshore drilling is not a safe means of acquiring oil and I hope that alternative sources of energy will become more popular. I can only hope that this oil spill will raise awareness about the importance, and fragility, of the environment and the species of life which were affected.” L’Esperance’s stance against offshore drilling reflects a younger generation’s desire to participate in more environmentally sound development.
While some think the worst is over in the Gulf of Mexico, Andrew Spagnolo, a junior at Rutgers University, foresees further devastation. He asserts “that the spill, as ecologically destructive as it was, is far worse than the government is letting us know and as time goes on we will slowly see the full effects.” Spagnolo, like L’Esperance, also remains hopeful that the oil spill will “become a symbol as to why our generation would want to expand and create new forms of green energy.” In other words, Spagnolo hopes that the oil spill in the Gulf will serve as a reminder for students as they leave their ecological footprints on the world.
Conversely, Kerri Huber, a sophomore at Rutgers University, remains in favor of offshore drilling; she claims that “despite the recent disaster, I am actually in favor of a more organized, responsible form of offshore drilling. Although I am highly against the absurd amount of oil Americans use yearly, I am a realist about the situation. To ensure that we are no longer handicapped by our dependency, we need to find new, safer ways to fuel our fast-paced lifestyles.” Huber feels directly affected by the oil spill because she is a political science major and the oil spill will certainly impact future American voters; she states: “As a Political Science major, I’d eventually like to get into politics and, obviously, my platform will include offshore drilling. This tragedy will make it that much harder for voters to feel even remotely comfortable with supporting the cause.” Huber’s challenge is one many future American political leaders will face as they seek to make positive changes in the world while hoping to maintain a comfortable and affordable standard of living.
While students are able to speculate about the future ramifications of the oil spill in the Gulf, marine biologist Dr. Sasha Tozzi from the University of California asserts that “the ecological impacts and effects resulting from the explosion at the BP Deepwater Horizon offshore drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico are currently largely unknown due to many uncertainties, as the actual amount of oil that seeped out of the ocean bottom at the depth of 1600 m below the ocean surface, as well as the effects of the 100,000
gallons of dispersants that potentially further contaminated the ocean with harmful chemicals.” However, Tozzi recognizes the high possibility that a large amount of marine and coastal wildlife will suffer greatly as a result of the spill. More importantly, Tozzi predicts that “the health of countless people is at risk as they get exposed to the oil directly and indirectly and not to be forgotten are the effects that the oil spill has on the seafood industry and tourism in the Gulf.” That being said, Tozzi urges college students to get involved in the effort to evaluate and manage the effects of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, as well as to proceed through life with greater care and respect for the environment. It is clear that both students and experts agree that although the long-term effects of the oil spill are still out of sight, the tragedy will undoubtedly have a profound effect on the environment as well as on the American way of life.