Oil spill preparedness and response

We are making considerable advances in the way we identify, assess and manage our oil spill risks and are sharing lessons with governments and industry

Our requirements for oil spill preparedness and response planning, and crisis management, incorporate what we have learned over many years of operation, and specifically from the Deepwater Horizon accident. Almost three quarters of our businesses with the potential to spill oil have updated oil spill planning scenarios and response strategies, in line with our new requirements issued in 2012. We aim to complete the remaining updates by the end of 2016.

Meeting the requirements is a substantial piece of work and we believe this has already resulted in a significant increase in our oil spill response capability. For example, this includes using specialized modelling techniques that help predict the impact of potential spills, the provision of stockpiles of dispersants and the use of new tools for environmental monitoring, such as aerial and underwater robotic vehicles.

Sensitivity mapping

We consider the environmental and socio-economic sensitivities of a region to help inform oil spill response planning. Sensitivity mapping helps us to identify the various types of habitats, resources and communities that could be affected by oil spills and develop appropriate response strategies.

We are implementing a mapping system that brings together geographical, operational, infrastructure, socio-economic, biological and habitat information to help us identify and better understand potential impacts of an oil spill. The tool contains information on coastlines that could potentially be affected by a spill, collected via satellites and helicopter and ground surveys. This is available for use by BP operations around the world and helps us set priorities for oil spill planning and response.

New technologies

We are testing the applicability of a number of emerging technologies for spill response. In collaboration with the Scottish Association of Marine Science, we have experimented with robotic underwater gliders for environmental monitoring and data collection in the North Sea. These systems, which can be piloted from land, could help us to better plan spill responses in marine environments by providing information on currents, temperature and water chemistry.

In Alaska, we are testing the use of robotic vehicles with camera sensors to locate spills and provide remote visibility for oil spill response at sea. 

Environmental monitoring

In the Gulf of Mexico, BP has partnered with our peers to develop an environmental monitoring system, which can be rapidly deployed to track information on dispersant use in the subsea marine environment in the case of an oil spill.

Through the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative, we are supporting research to improve knowledge of the Gulf ecosystem, and to better understand and mitigate the potential impacts of oil spills in the region and elsewhere.

Oil spill response exercises

In 2014, we conducted oil spill response exercises at locations around the world, including in the Gulf of Mexico and the North Sea. We worked collaboratively with state and federal regulators in the Gulf of Mexico to assess the use of subsea dispersants as a primary response strategy. In the North Sea, we tested the use of satellite imagery as a data feed for near real-time information as part of an oil spill response.

Dr. Joanne Pitt, Knowledge exchange manager, Scottish Association of Marine Science

We participated in an oil spill response exercise with BP that aimed to test the systems available in the event of an oil spill in the UK. Because of BP’s planning process, we were able to co-ordinate our IT systems and integrate live data from our deep sea underwater gliders into BP’s environmental sensitivity mapping systems. Gliders, and the data they provide, could provide a key tool in environmental monitoring.

Exercises such as this are a lot of work but are invaluable in improving oil spill preparedness, helping us to build the critical relationships required ahead of time and ensure that the tools and data available can be used in an integrated way and help inform decision making for response.

Dr. Joanne Pitt
Knowledge exchange manager, Scottish Association of Marine Science


Working together

Along with eight other international oil companies as part of the Subsea Well Response Project, we worked with Oil Spill Response Limited (OSRL) to create an international system of intervention equipment for upstream oil spills, including four capping stacks located in various locations around the globe. We are also taking part in a new global response initiative by OSRL that provides participants with access to up to 5,000 cubic metres of dispersant that is strategically stationed worldwide. This should prove to be a critical resource for first response to oil spills.

We seek to work collaboratively with government regulators in planning for oil spill response, with the aim of improving any potential future response. For example, in 2014 we shared lessons on dispersant use and oil spill response technologies with governments in Angola, the UK and the US.

For information on how we are sharing lessons learned in our drilling operations, see safer drilling.

Our performance

Number of oil spills

The number of oil spills over one barrel (159 litres, 42 US gallons) that reached land and water, decreased to 63 spills (2013 74 spills, 2012 102 spills).

Total number of oil spills (≥one barrel)


Volume of oil spilled

In 2014, the volume of oil spilled decreased to approximately 400 thousand litres (2013 724 thousand litres, 2012 801 thousand litres). Approximately 155 thousand litres of oil remained in the environment after recovery operations in 2014 (2013 261 thousand litres, 2012 320 thousand litres). 

Volume of oil spilled*


* Excludes the volume of oil spilled in the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill.


The information on this page forms part of the information reviewed and reported on by Ernst & Young as part of BP's 2014 sustainability reporting. View the full assurance statement.