It has been nearly five years since the devastating Deepwater Horizon oil spill, but the disaster's devastating impact on Gulf Coast ecosystems remains.
A new report released by the National Wildlife Foundation highlights the long-term effects of the 2010 disaster, in which the BP Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded, causing the worst oil spill in US history. A broken pipe 4,500 feet under water sent over 120 million gallons of oil – as well as significant amounts of gas – into the Gulf of Mexico and killed 11 people.
BP has already begun to compensate those affected by the spill, but the National Wildlife Federation's report illustrates that it could take decades for the health of the Gulf Coast to be restored. To what extent should BP be held accountable to restoration efforts?
The 30-page annual report investigates the aftermath of the spill. While thousands of species were impacted by the spill and its aftermath, the report focuses on 20 species native to the Gulf Coast to give a more focused look at the damage.
The report found that multiple species’ populations have declined significantly; the local laughing gull population decreased by about 32 percent after the spill. The nests of Kemp’s ridley sea turtles, an endangered species, are also declining.
Stunted growth and developmental defects have been observed in yellowfin tuna, mahi mahi, and spotted seatrout. Oil has also been found in white pelican nests in locations as far away as Iowa, Illinois, and Minnesota.
Collin O’Mara, president and CEO of NWF, said the findings show that there is still a long way to go in healing the area.
“Five years later, wildlife in the Gulf are still feeling the impacts of the oil spill,” said Mr. O’Mara in a news release. “The science is clear that this is not over – and sea turtles, dolphins, fish, and birds are still suffering from the fallout. Holding BP fully accountable and using all fines and penalties to restore the Gulf of Mexico must be a national priority.”
In December, NWF released a report detailing 47 projects and recommendations for effectively restoring the Gulf Coast to its previous health. Much of the proposals' funding will come from fines and penalties associated with the disaster.
“We can’t undo what was done, but we can bring something positive out of it by ensuring that every penny flowing from the disaster supports scientifically sound restoration efforts,” said David Muth, the director of NWF’s Gulf Restoration Program.
In September, a federal court ruled that BP was guilty of gross negligence for the spill, responsible for 67 percent of the disaster. The firm faced fines of up to $18 billion, the highest amount for violation of the Clean Water Act. As of December, the company had spent $27 billion on environmental cleanup, restoration efforts, and to settle economic claims of those affected by the spill.
In February, the Justice Department determined BP deserved the maximum penalty, $4,300-per-barrel, amounting to $13.7 billion total. BP pointed to the already $40 billion in spill-related costs they faced.
While it may seem like a lot of money for environmental restoration, there may be years of work to do. Today, oil can still be found in Gulf waters. A study published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology found that 6 to 10 million gallons of oil still remain in the Gulf Coast, buried under sediment on the ocean floor.
"It may take years or even decades before the full impacts are known, and more research is clearly needed. In the meantime, restoration of the Gulf ecosystem must become a high priority for the nation," the report reads.