Explain to student that on April 20, 2010, the Transocean Deepwater Horizon rig caught fire, while in the Gulf of Mexico, and sank two days late. The oil bubbled up from the ocean floor and within two weeks, to contain the damage, 75 boats, 2,000 Coast Guard Personnel, and 41 miles of boom, large floating barriers that round up oil and lift the oil off the water, were dispatched. Share the fact sheet published on May 3, 2010.
It took some 85 days for the oil to stop slipping into the Gulf. The first attempt to use what was called a Top Hat, a cap that was to sit on top of the well, was not a success. Data collected by underwater cameras revealed continuous leaking, so it was replaced with another cap, called the Top Hat #10. This device seemed did seem to stop the leakage, on July 16, 2010. New technologies, including web cams and robotic claws were used to test and monitor the success of the tool, also known as a 3 ram capping stack.
The way that the integrity of the cap is tested is based on pressure. In this case, the pressure is to build up to 8,000-9,000 psi (pound-force per square inch). A lack of pressure indicates that there could be leaks lower in the structure, or a breach in the ocean floor. If the pressure does get up to the preferred 8,000-9,000 psi, experts would reevaluate this data every 6 hours for 48 hours before experts can say with confidence that the solution can sustain hurricanes, allowing the Helix Producer, a ship that can siphon off up to 25,000 barrels of oil per day, to disconnect. A more permanent solution would be to use mud and cement at the bottom of the well.
But after 85 days, and the death of 11 crew members on the rig that experienced the explosion, according the National Wildlife Federation, at least 1,978 birds, 463 sea turtles, and 59 mammals were killed as of July 12, 2010. The Deepwater Horizon Unified Command collects data and posts updates almost daily, and the numbers increase as more animals are reported. Animals who are the weakest are those who receive veterinary care, as some wildlife may attack those who try to capture them, when stressed. Veterinarians are also not releasing animals that recover into the wild, prematurely, because the creatures may try to return to habitats that are now polluted.
The economic impact of the disaster is woven into how natural habitats are impacted. The Gulf of Mexico provided the United States $367 with million worth of shrimp and $6.2 million of oysters, and contains four of the seven top fishing ports in the United States, by weight, in 2008. While commercial fisheries in the region have seen business come to a halt, the lucrative recreational fisheries are also suffering, due to a drop in the tourism that previously boasted $20 million, that was based largely on water sports and the appeal of the beaches. Those beaches now are polluted with tar. Without clean water to fish in, those jobs are lost. If there healthy shrimp, kill and plankton to consume, the larger fish are without the main staple of their diet. The impact of this disaster could be felt for decades by a region just recovering from Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The shrimp mentioned above are a form of zooplankton, an integral part of the marine food web, which are consumed by small predators such as sardines, and herring. One species, the Atlantic herring, is consumed by birds and marine mammals, and often used as bait. The top predators include seals, dolphins, pelicans, and humans.
Since marine mammals, and animals higher on the food web can travel from the Gulf of Mexico, and ocean currents could bring the oil towards the south of Florida, and up the east coast, the spill is not an issue limited to just one part of the United States. Variables include how deep below the surface the oil is and the direction of what is called the loop current influence where the oil ends up. Of course, the more oil there is, the greater the chance that that it will disperse to Texas, Florida, and perhaps even North Carolina.
- You will need a computer with access to the internet on which the class can watch video for approximately 15 minutes.
- Print a copy of the Main Ideas and Supporting Details worksheet for each member or the class.
- Print the Which Role Are You? handout, which is divided into four sections. Each student is assigned one role, so if you have 24 students, print six copies.
- Students will be asked to watch four brief videos (found online). The links provided below contain transcripts from each video. Print these to share with students who would benefit from following the text as they listen.
- Print a copy of the Fact Sheet, from PBS, for each student: http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/oilnumbers.html
- There are other related links embedded in the lesson. If you are not using a classroom computer or a projector with a screen or interactive white board, you may wish to print the maps, graphics, or articles to reinforce concepts presented in the lesson.
Phase 1: Distribute roles to one of each of four students, or have the class work in four teams, and have each team take on a one role.
For each link below, print the transcript of the video, to assist students in taking notes as they watch. There are four videos, but each class member should watch all of the videos.
Have one of each of the following read their role: scientist, biologist, shrimper, and insurance agent. As a class, discuss what each of these people would be most concerned about in light of the oil spill. Remind students to think about the ecological, economic, and social impact. How might their lives change? What might they learn? What might they lose?
As a class, watch the following four videos. Use the worksheet entitled Main Idea and Supporting Details.
As students watch the four video clips, remind them to record facts about the parts of the disaster that are most relevant to their assigned role, but to consider how their classmates might present their cases, as well. Have one person from each group read their challenge, so students know the facts on which they may wish to focus.
Share with the students the videos below. Each of these videos are of particular interest to those assigned a certain role:
Insurance Agent: http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/environment/july-dec10/oil_07-12.html
After students have taken notes on their video, distribute the assignment sheets. Each student will get the same assignment, but will complete it in their own way. While students will be asked to create a blog entry, they are not expected to start an actual blog. They can complete their assignment in writing, or use a computer to type their post. This may be a good time to remind students about using social media safely.
Remind students to present their perspective based on the role they were assigned. Their opinions should be backed up with facts. They may write with passion, but should be appropriate in their language and respectful to their readers.
Students will be assessed on whether or not they used facts from the class activities to support their work, whether or not that “stayed in character” and the quality of their writing.
As an alternative, students can work in groups by assigning a small group one blog post to write as a committee, or having four students create one blog about the oil spill, and having each student write one post from the point of view of their character, essentially, as guest bloggers writing on the same theme.
Phase 2: Students will be asked to share their entries at the end of class, if time allows, or at the next class. As each student shares their blog post with the class, ask students to write comments in response to the blog posts their classmates wrote. The comments could support the statements made, use the post as starting point for a related discussion, relate the writer’s point of view to their own, or request more information of the writer to support their argument.
After each person has had at least one chance to comment on a blog other than their own, have each student write a tweet, or a note of 140 characters (not words) or less, encouraging others to read their blog. Students can use short cuts, such as the number “2” for the word “to” to save space. Students do not have to open a Twitter account, but promoting blog posts is one way professionals share ideas on topics that are important to them. Students may also wish to create a pretend Twitter handle for their character, such as @shrimper2010 or @tophat10, and explain why they chose their handle.