Skip to: Content
Skip to: Site Navigation
Skip to: Search

In the end, did huge Gulf oil spill underwhelm oil-hungry Americans?

Predictions of 'Obama's Katrina,' millions of fish belly up on beaches, and an end to deep-water drilling all came to naught. High gasoline prices now seem more pressing to Americans than the Deepwater Horizon disaster that led to Gulf oil spill.

By Staff writer / April 20, 2011

In this June 12, 2010 file photo, crude oil from the BP Deepwater Horizon spill is seen inside a wave as it washes ashore in Orange Beach, Ala.

Dave Martin/AP



In the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, Republican wit Peggy Noonan wrote that President Obama stood only a slim chance of recovering politically from his handling of the national emergency. Ecologists fretted that millions of fish would wash up, tourism would flop for years, and the Gulf's sensitive ecosystem would finally be overwhelmed after decades of abuse.

Skip to next paragraph

Others suggested that BP would go bankrupt or be broken up. Deepwater drilling would never be the same and might be abandoned in the Gulf altogether, prognosticators said, driven out by government moratoriums or liability fears.

Few of these dire predictions have come to bear.

Yes, the Deepwater Horizon disaster, which killed 11 and spilled 200 million gallons of oil into the Gulf for 85 days, was by the numbers the largest – and perhaps most agonizing – maritime oil spill in US history, 19 times bigger than the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska. But the Gulf itself appears to have mostly recovered, scoring a 69 out of 100 on an ecological report card by Texas A&M University ecologist Wes Tunnell, just 1 point lower than before the spill. This week, the US lifted the remaining fishing restrictions, and though some fin fish stocks have taken a beating, shrimp, by many accounts, is plentiful, as are crabs, evidently helped by the pause in commercial fishing more than hurt by the oil.

Even as oil is still washing ashore on some beaches, tourist spots in Alabama, Florida, and Mississippi, many of which wrote off last season as a total loss, report that bookings are up by 15 percent compared with reservations taken right before last year's spill. That hints that many Americans are willing to return to their annual beach vacation sites along the "Mediterranean of the Americas."

The president, for his part, has mostly evaded predictions that the spill would become "Obama's Katrina." Today, Mr. Obama has bigger fish to fry both politically and managerially. At a recent town-hall meeting, questioners blasted Obama with questions about high gasoline prices, not Gulf Coast ecology. He recently made increased domestic production a high point of his national energy plan, though he added that deepwater drilling is "not the long-term solution to our energy challenge."

In some ways, the story of the Gulf after the spill is one of frustration, resilience, and, in the end, acceptance on the part of Gulf Coasters. The nation as a whole, having gauged the spill through massive media coverage, appears to have deemed it scary, troubling, but not a game-changer.


Read Comments

View reader comments | Comment on this story