In the five years since the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, scientific data and studies are showing that the Gulf environment is returning to its baseline condition, according to a new report BP released today. The Gulf of Mexico Environmental Recovery and Restoration report also indicates that impacts from the spill largely occurred in the spring and summer of 2010.
The report is based on scientific studies that government agencies, academic institutions, BP and others conducted as part of the spill response, the ongoing Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) process or through independent research. While individual studies are helpful, they tell only part of the story. This report, a wide-ranging compilation of reputable studies by respected researchers, provides a broader overview of the state of the Gulf environment.
“The data and studies summarized in this report are encouraging and provide evidence that the most dire predictions made after the spill did not come to pass,” said Laura Folse, BP’s executive vice president for response and environmental restoration. “The Gulf is showing strong signs of environmental recovery, primarily due to its natural resilience and the unprecedented response and cleanup efforts.”
The report also looks at the large-scale, BP-funded early restoration projects to speed the recovery of natural resources in the Gulf that were injured as a result of the spill.
The report finds that:
Available data does not indicate the spill caused any significant long-term population-level impact to species in the Gulf. For example, NRDA data do not reveal ongoing adverse impacts to bird populations linked to the spill beyond the initial, limited acute mortality in 2010. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) data show that fish populations are robust, and commercial landings generally have been consistent with pre-spill trends and ranges. Findings published by a group of researchers, including scientists working with the NRDA trustees, show the accident did not affect most deepwater coral communities.
Several key factors lessened the spill’s impact. The spill took place in deep water, far offshore and in a temperate climate, allowing the oil to break down. The type of “light” crude oil involved in this spill also degrades and evaporates faster than heavier oils. At the same time, the massive offshore response and shoreline cleanup – for which BP spent more than $14 billion and workers devoted more than 70 million personnel hours – mitigated the damage. And the Gulf, which contains many natural oil seeps and robust populations of oil-eating microbes, is extraordinarily resilient.
Affected areas are recovering faster than predicted. For example, in 2010 the U.S. Coast Guard documented 86 miles of marsh that were categorized as heavily oiled. And by early 2014, after the response effort as well as natural attenuation, just 0.7 miles remained heavily oiled and were recovering naturally.
Injured natural resources are being restored in an unprecedented fashion. In 2011, BP voluntarily agreed to spend $1 billion on these projects to expedite the restoration of natural resources in the Gulf while the NRDA process was ongoing. No company has ever undertaken a program of this scale before or since. As of December 2014, BP and the federal and state natural resource trustees had agreed on 54 early restoration projects totaling about $698 million.
The NRDA is the process through which the U.S. government, state agencies and BP conduct studies to identify injuries to natural resources resulting from the Deepwater Horizon accident, as well as the best way of restoring injured resources and the amount of money required to do so. This ongoing NRD assessment is the largest environmental evaluation of its kind ever conducted, spanning nearly five years and costing around $1.3 billion to date. BP also has committed to pay $500 million over 10 years to support independent research through the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative.
In addition to those costs, BP has spent more than $28 billion on response, cleanup, early restoration and claims payments.
Environmental data collected by NRDA and response efforts are available at: http://gulfsciencedata.bp.com
The full Gulf of Mexico Environmental Recovery and Restoration report is available at: http://www.bp.com/gulf5yearreport
For more information on our progress toward fulfilling our commitment to economic and environmental restoration, please visit http://www.theStateoftheGulf.com.