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How the BP oil spill hurt Gulf Coast wildlife and livelihoods

Five years ago, the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded, killing 11 and sending a torrent of oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico. When it was finally capped, more than 100 million gallons had spilled, resulting in the deaths of thousands of animals. The beaches and waters look clean now, but the disaster caused long-lasting economic and environmental devastation. Judy Woodruff reports.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    No matter how you measure the numbers, it was the biggest oil spill in American history, a gusher triggered by a catastrophic blowout of a well deep in the sea, and the deadly explosion aboard a drilling rig.

    Five years later, how is the Gulf Coast doing?

    Let's get into that, but first a reminder of that moment. April 20, 2010, the darkened skies of the Gulf of Mexico lit up as the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded into a fireball. BP's Macondo oil well had blown out, killing 11 workers, and sending a torrent of oil gushing from the seafloor. Multiple attempts to seal the leak failed. When it was finally capped, 87 days later, the government estimated more than 170 million gallons had spilled. A federal judge later put it at 134 million gallons.

    Thousands of birds, turtles, and other animals died as the sheen coated the Gulf shoreline, marshes and barrier islands. Today, the beaches and waters of the Gulf look clean again.

  • WOMAN:

    If you didn't know there was a spill, and you went out there today, you would never know there was ever a problem.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Many fisheries have rebounded, but scientists say millions of gallons of petroleum, dispersants and other chemicals may have settled on the seafloor, threatening deep sea corals and bottom-dwelling fish. And tar balls still wash ashore.

  • DAVID MUTH, National Wildlife Federation:

    You're seeing this cycle of exposure and reburial of remnants of the spill, and that's going to go on for a long time.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    In addition, dolphin strandings and deaths tripled after the spill. Endangered Kemp's ridley sea turtle nests dropped to levels not seen in a decade. And oyster populations in southeastern Louisiana plummeted.

    BP maintains the drops are not related to the Macondo oil itself and that wildlife populations are back to pre-spill levels. On the economic front, the spill devastated livelihoods, shut down fisheries and coastal businesses.

  • KENNETH FEINBERG, Administrator, BP Claims Fund:

    How you define what is eligible and ineligible is a formidable challenge.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Kenneth Feinberg was initially named administrator of an independent claims fund. He spoke with the NewsHour in 2010.

  • KENNETH FEINBERG:

    It's one thing to compensate a shrimper who can't shrimp in the Gulf because the shrimping is unavailable, that the government has closed off the shrimp grounds, or a oyster harvester, or a fisherman. It's another thing if a restaurant in Boston says, I can't get shrimp from the Gulf and I'm losing revenue because I can't serve a favorite dish. Pay me.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    BP has spent more than $28 billion since the spill began. Half went toward response and cleanup measures. More than $5 billion has gone to pay compensation claims.

    In January, a federal judge in New Orleans found the oil giant grossly negligent in the spill, which could leave it liable for up to $13.7 billion in penalties. Meanwhile, the Obama administration proposed new offshore drilling regulations last week. They're aimed at preventing equipment failures like the one that led to the Deepwater Horizon blowout.

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