Extensive scientific data gathered over the past five years show that most of the environmental impact of the Deepwater Horizon accident was of short duration and limited in geography, and the affected areas are rebounding. With money from BP, government agencies are restoring injured natural resources through dozens of projects.
Environmental conditions in the Gulf
- The natural resilience of the Gulf environment. History shows that Gulf species and their populations can adapt and rebound from environmental disturbances. In addition, because of the Gulf’s many natural oil seeps, microbes have adapted over time to feast on oil and several studies have shown that these voracious microbes consumed a significant amount of oil after the spill. According to the National Research Council, every year natural seeps release 560,000 to 1.4 million barrels of oil into the Gulf – the equivalent of up to nearly six Exxon Valdez spills.
- The distance and depth of the accident. The accident occurred more than 40 miles from the closest shore, nearly a mile below the surface and in a temperate climate. This allowed a substantial quantity of oil to dissolve, evaporate, deteriorate, photo-oxidize or be physically removed before it could reach the shoreline.
- The type of oil released. The oil spilled was a “light” crude, which degrades, dissolves and evaporates faster than most other crude oils, such as the heavier oil from the Exxon Valdez spill.
- BP’s unprecedented response. Under the U.S. Coast Guard’s direction and in coordination with other government agencies, BP’s massive, sustained response was highly effective at minimizing the spill’s impact on wildlife, their habitats and the shoreline.
Response and shoreline cleanup
BP spent $14 billion and roughly 100,000 workers devoted more than 70 million personnel hours responding to the spill and cleaning the shoreline.
- Of the roughly 4,400 shoreline miles ground-surveyed, approximately 1,100 miles had some degree of oiling. However, that oiling was not contiguous, with most characterized as light, very light or trace. About two-thirds of the areas were mechanically or manually cleaned.
- Oil was removed from the shoreline through extensive cleanup operations guided by technical assessments from multi-party teams, comprised of government, industry and BP scientists.
- In some areas, it was determined that cleanup activities would cause more harm to the environment than leaving the material in place to naturally attenuate.
- The Coast Guard ended the last remaining active cleanup operations in April 2014 and transitioned these areas to the National Response Center (NRC) reporting process. The operational phase of the response ended on Feb. 28, 2015.
- BP will respond at the Coast Guard’s direction if the NRC process identifies additional Macondo oil that requires removal.
Scientific studies of residual oil
Studies conducted by multi-agency Operational Science Advisory Teams (OSAT) played a critical role in guiding cleanup operations by providing a scientific understanding of the oil’s fate and the potential effect on people and the environment.
- OSAT-1 (December 2010): Concluded that no recoverable Macondo oil remained in the water column or offshore sediments. Also, of the roughly 17,000 water samples collected and analyzed, none exceeded the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s benchmarks for protection of human health. The report also found no deposits of liquid-phase oil from the Macondo well in sediments beyond the shoreline.
- OSAT-2 (February 2011): Found that residual oil in nearshore and sandy-shoreline areas was highly weathered, and that concentrations of constituents of concern were well below EPA acceptable risk levels to human health.
- OSAT-3 (Florida, Alabama, Mississippi – January 2014; Louisiana – May 2014): Found that only isolated and identifiable areas of submerged or buried oil may remain, and if further residual oil remobilizes along some shoreline in the Area of Response, the prevailing conditions (and the locations of these re-oiling occurrences) are generally known.
Through the largest Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) ever conducted, BP and state and federal trustees are investigating the potential injury to wildlife, habitat and the recreational use of these resources.
- To date, BP has spent around $1.3 billion to fund the assessment process, including more than 240 studies.
- Scientists are studying a range of species such as birds, fish, marine mammals and plants, as well as habitats such as wetlands and beaches, to understand how wildlife populations and the environment may have been injured.
- BP has seen no data that suggest significant long-term population level impacts to any Gulf species. Data collection and analysis continue.
- BP and the trustees are using the NRDA data to guide the selection of early restoration projects and longer-term Gulf restoration.
Supporting long-term research
- In addition to $1.3 billion that BP has already spent to support the NRDA process, BP has committed to pay $500 million over 10 years to fund independent research through the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI).
- GoMRI has thus far awarded approximately $315 million in grants.
- The goal of the GoMRI research is to improve society’s ability to understand, respond to and mitigate the potential impacts of oil spills to marine and coastal ecosystems. BP’s funding covers grant awards and administrative costs, and the research is separate and distinct from studies conducted through the NRDA.
Approved early restoration projects
BP signed a landmark agreement with state and federal trustees to accelerate restoration efforts in the Gulf of Mexico. A total of 54 early restoration projects – costing about $700 million – are underway across the Gulf Coast, from marsh creation and beach restoration to fishery enhancements and state park improvements. An additional 10 projects totaling approximately $134 million have been proposed by BP and the trustees.
- The projects are part of BP's commitment to provide up to $1 billion in early restoration funding to expedite recovery of natural resources injured as a result of the Deepwater Horizon accident.
- The agreement makes it possible for restoration to begin at an earlier stage of the NRDA process than usual.
- BP pays for the projects, and the trustees are responsible for the implementation.
- BP is making environmental data collected through the Deepwater Horizon NRDA and response efforts publicly available at http://gulfsciencedata.bp.com.
- The website includes data on fish, birds, shoreline and air-monitoring samples, along with data on oil, sediment and water chemistry.