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Deepwater Horizon – an environmental or human tragedy?

On 30th September 2016, Summit Entertainment released the biographical disaster film ‘Deepwater Horizon’, six years after the explosion on the oil rig of the same name. Directed by Peter Berg, the film tells the story of the event that has since been titled ‘the worst environmental disaster that the US has faced’. Beginning on 20th April 2010, oil began to spill from the rig owned by the British multinational oil company BP and caused incredible damage to the environment around it. The film adopts the perspective of the workers involved in the accident, focusing on a dramatised version of events as a human tragedy rather than as an environmental disaster. Many film critics that picked up on this (such as myself) were left wondering – what was the most significant consequence of the spill; the effect on the environment or the emotional impact on the humans involved?

An estimated 4.9 million barrels of crude oil spilled out from BP’s oil rig across the Gulf of Mexico. Eight US national parks were threatened and more than 400 species living in the Gulf islands and marshlands were at risk. Since 2nd November 2010, 6814 dead animals have been collected as a result of the disaster. Even now, after BP has spent $20 billion dollars clearing the damage, the spill’s long-term effects continue to impact the environment. It is no secret that the oil spill caused thousands of miles of excessive environmental damage around the oil rig, yet the movie fails to highlight the extent of this.

A fundamental fact about the oil spill to be considered is that it was (arguably) an accidental miscalculation; neither the company nor its workers on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig triggered the spill with malicious intent. Even BP has claimed that the film ‘it is not an accurate portrayal of the events that led to the accident’. Yet the entire company has been left tainted with the blame. 11 of the company’s workers died and many more were left injured, emotionally affecting the lives of those involved as well as their families, forever. In my opinion, the creation of this film has simply refueled an argument that should have been settled years ago and has once again sparked controversy and hatred directed at a company who have already paid for their mistake.

The film focuses on protagonist Mike Williams (Mark Wahlberg) and his fellow workers on the oil rig. It portrays their personal experience in the midst of the tragedy and how their lives were ultimately affected. This dramatised recreation of the disaster removes the reality of the environmental damage and turns real life issues into a ‘Hollywood’ story for the audience to empathise with.

Whilst BP as a company was negatively affected by the spill, one must not forget that they caused irreparable damage to vast parts of the Gulf of Mexico’s environment and that many human lives were lost.

BP has managed to somewhat clean up their mistake, spending billions on the clearing up of the damage and their own name. They remain today one of the world’s seven oil and gas ‘supermajors,’ and the tenth richest company in the world. As for the environment, experts say that it may take years for the spill’s long term effects to even show up.

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