April 17, 2015

5 facts about the BP oil spill

On April 20, 2010, an explosion rocked the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico, killing 11 workers and sending oil gushing into the water. By the time the well was sealed months later, about 5 million barrels of oil had spilled into the Gulf. Here are five key facts about the oil spill and its aftermath:

Favor or Oppose the Government Allowing More Offshore Oil and Gas Drilling in U.S. Waters?1Support for offshore drilling plummeted after the 2010 spill, but has largely recovered since. Between February and May of 2010, the share of Americans who favored more offshore oil and gas drilling fell from 63% to 54%. By June, support dropped another 10 percentage points and more people opposed increased drilling (52%) than favored it (44%). But support rose subsequent years, though not to the same heights. Last December, 56% said they favored the government allowing more offshore drilling and 40% opposed the practice. In that survey, about three-quarters of Republicans (77%) favored more drilling, as did 55% of independents. Only 41% of Democrats favored more drilling, including just one-in-three liberal Democrats (33%).

2The months-long BP story was one of the two biggest stories of the year in terms of news interest. In the week ending July 25, 2010 – shortly after BP said it had capped the leak and just before the resignation of CEO Tony Hayward – fully 59% of American adults were following the Gulf leak very closely. The only story as closely watched in 2010 was that of another disaster, the January earthquake in Haiti (60% paid close attention at the peak).

FT_15.04.17_BP_InterestCoverage3Public interest went hand-in-hand with the vast amount of news coverage of the spill. The Gulf spill was the most covered news story in nine weeks out of a 14-week period studied by Pew Research Center. Our study of media coverage from April 20 to July 28, 2010, showed that the spill accounted for 22% of the newshole (almost double the next-biggest story) and generated 31% of cable news airtime. Public interest in the news remained high, even in weeks when news coverage dropped off; in 13 of those 14 weeks, the public followed the story of the spill more closely than any other.

FT_15.04.17_BP_TrustedMedia4The public trusted news organizations more than the federal government and far more than BP for information about the leak. About half (52%) said in July 2010 that they had a lot or some trust in the information about the spill coming from the federal government; just about one-third (34%) said the same about information from BP. News organizations received the most confidence from the public, with 64% saying they trusted at least some of the news organizations’ information about the spill. By July, though, the public had grown weary of the amount of coverage. Although about half (49%) said news organizations were giving the story the right amount of coverage and 18% said there was too little, 31% at that point said it was too much coverage, up from 14% two months earlier.

5While support for offshore drilling has largely rebounded, many Americans also support investments in alternative energy. By a two-to-one ratio, a greater share of the public favors developing alternatives like wind, solar and hydrogen over expanding ventures into oil, coal and natural gas (60% vs. 30%). In fact, the public takes something of an all-of-the-above approach to energy: 81% support better fuel-efficiency requirements and 58% want more mining and drilling on federal land. An additional 41% would favor the government promoting the increased use of nuclear power.

Category: 5 Facts

Topics: Energy and Environment, News Audience Trends and Attitudes, News Interest

  1. is a research analyst focusing on U.S. politics and policy at Pew Research Center.


  1. Bob Lundin2 years ago

    I have no problem with more off shore oil drilling BUT if there is another spill, someone MUST go to jail AND there should be really high finds. It should not be thought of a just a cost of doing business.

  2. Packard Day2 years ago

    Much like the fashionable nonsense of the man caused global warming movement, with the BP oils spill, it is far more important to watch the economic numbers than it is to waste too much time paying attention to the pseudo science embedded political rhetoric.

    For example, if the so called “fragile Gulf Coast fishing industry” were indeed damaged by the BP spill, one might expect to see a spike in say, the price of Gulf Coast jumbo shrimp. The reverse is true of prime coastal real estate values if the world’s oceans were indeed rising. If true, wealthy people would be hurrying to dump their ocean front property at fire sale prices before the rising ocean made them worthless..

    Rather than reveal what is really happening to the price of both coastal real estate and Gulf Coast jumbo shrimp, let me invite readers to check out the numbers for themselves. The truth will set us all free.