IN LATE APRIL 2010, an explosion at BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig resulted in the largest accidental marine oil spill in the history of the industry.
Shortly after the explosion, Greenpeace asked conservation photographer Daniel Beltra to head to Louisiana and the Gulf of Mexico. Beltra contracted a plane to see the real effects of the oil spill.
The work has been collected in the book Spill, which is availabe to purchase on his website. Beltra shared a number of photos from the first two months of the spill…
On 22 April, two days after the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig, an oil leak was discovered when an oil slick began to spread at the former rig site.
Originally, BP reported that no oil was escaping from the well but, on 24 April, the Coast Guard confirmed that there was a “serious spill” occurring.
With no oil reaching the shores yet, Beltra contracted a plane to take him over the Gulf. Even that task was difficult, with planes barred from numerous areas and unable to fly below 3,000 feet.
Soon he found plenty of oil, with 62,000 barrels flowing from the leak per day.
Meanwhile BP was working to stem the spill. The company sent underwater robots to try to activate the well’s defunct blowout preventer safety valve, but this failed.
Next, BP tried placing a “containment dome” over the largest leak and piping the oil to a storage vessel. That method failed as well.
In mid-May, BP engineers successfully inserted a tube to begin capturing some of the oil, which was then transferred to a drill ship on the surface.
“When I was there working, I was just like, when is this going to end?” Beltra told Business Insider. “It was flowing and flowing and flowing.”
Beltra’s four-day assignment was extended to 28 days. After the first month, the spill showed no signs of stopping.
For part of the cleanup, the Coast Guard would ignite “controlled burns” of oil slicks. This method works, but only in particular situations.
In late May, oil began finally reaching Louisiana shores. According to Beltra, BP and the government began heavily controlling what areas the media did and didn’t have to access to.
“[BP and the government] were trying to minimize what was going on,” Beltra says. “They wanted it to look like it wasn’t as bad as it was.”
Beltra says it was impossible to get access to dead animals, of which there were many. “Every carcass was recovered and quickly put into locked freezers — for the coming lawsuit they told us,” Beltra says. After weeks of trying, Beltra finally got access to an animal cleanup facility for one hour. They showed him these birds.
After nearly three months and 4.9 million barrels of oil, the leak was finally capped on 15 July. In June, BP announced the cleanup complete, after 3 years of working in the area. Questions remain about the long-term effects of the spill.