Remember the Deepwater Horizon!

How did the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico affect Americans’ opinions about environmental and ocean conservation?

A year ago, the Deepwater Horizon offshore oil drilling rig exploded, killing 11 men and starting a 3-month long flood of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, devastating the ecology, economy, and coastal communities for years to come. The resultant media frenzy captivated the public, with hundreds of thousands tuning in online and on air 24/7 to witness the heroic efforts and tragic failures to contain the oil spill. 

The Ocean Project’s quarterly tracking data showed a spike in interest in ocean health in June 2010.  In that quarter, the public not only had a heightened desire to protect the ocean, but felt that it should be a priority for the government.

Fig 1. Click for full-size. In June 2010 after the oil spill, the number of Americans who agreed with the statement “Protecting the ocean should be a priority for the US government” jumped considerably from 2009 and April 2010. However, by August 2010 fewer still felt this way.


Fig 2. Click for full-size. A similar jump can be observed in people who agree with the statements “Protecting the ocean is an important part of protecting the environment.”
The interest was short-lived, however. By the time the 3rd quarter tracking data returned, interest was already declining.


This trend is mirrored in the searches conducted on the internet during these same months (Fig 3): Google Trends show related search terms such as “gulf oil spill,” “oil spill” and “Gulf of Mexico” spiked on April 20th 2010 and then declined over the next few months (reaching its peak in late April/early May). The search term frequency was down near baseline levels by October 2010.

Fig 3. Click for full-size. Google Trends.

Now, a year later, the sense of urgency has long since passed. The memory lingers, but for most Americans, it’s back to life as usual. For those living in and around the Gulf of Mexico, the consequences of this disaster have an impact on their lives daily.

In memory of this catastrophic event, we will be dedicating our blogs over the next week to the communities and ecologies that were forever transformed on April 20, 2010.
Posted in Communications Research, Polling and Public Opinion.

Alyssa Isakower

Alyssa has consulted for The Ocean Project coordinating World Oceans Day since 2011 and is more excited for June 8th every year! She is interested in all things social media, and has been thrilled to work with partners of The Ocean Project around the world on exciting conservation outreach, both on the ground and online.

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