BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill was far more extensive and toxic than previous estimates, a new study by University of Miami researchers have found.
Government estimates of the oil spill, which is nearing its 10th anniversary, were based on satellite images and two-dimensional modeling and failed to account for a vast amount of “invisible oil” below the surface, according to the ocean scientists at the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science. They began the study during the April 2010 blowout, which flooded the Gulf of Mexico with toxic crude oil from a well a mile beneath the surface.
The new study used a more dynamic three-dimensional model that traced the oil from the blowout site, accounting for vast oil plumes manipulated by wave action and currents that churned the oil from the floor to the surface. Hurricane Alex swept through the Gulf little more than two months after the genesis of the spill, “enhancing and mixing and bleaching the Deepwater Horizon oil,” the study explained.
Much of this “invisible oil” flowed past fishery closures designed to contain the spill and escaped detection on satellite images even as forces drove it to the Texas shore, west Florida, and into the loop current that drives Gulf water around the southern tip of Florida up to Miami.
Official estimates put the Deepwater Horizon oil spill at 210 million gallons spread out over 92,500 square miles of Gulf. But the new study shows that the oil’s reach was 30% larger and immensely more toxic, killing half of the marine life that encountered it.
Claire B. Paris-Limouzy, a professor of ocean sciences at the University of Miami Rosenstiel School and the study’s senior author, told the Washington Post that the Deepwater Horizon spill “was no regular oil spill.”
“It happened in the deep ocean. Between the deep sea floor and the surface is a lot of water.”
And although the subsea oil was lighter in concentrations than the oil on the surface, it was extremely toxic, the study’s co-author, Igal Berenshtein, a post-doctoral associate at the University of Miami, told the Washington Post. “Basically, when you have oil combined with ultraviolet sunlight it becomes two times more toxic than oil alone. Oil becomes toxic at very low concentrations.”
The Washington Post notes that the study comes amid a sweeping proposal by the Trump Administration to allow the oil and gas industry to lease every part of the Atlantic, Pacific, and Arctic Oceans for drilling, even when corporations have demonstrated they’re ill-equipped to address disasters in many of those regions.
The Trump administration has already colluded with the oil industry in rolling back safety regulations aimed at protecting oil platform workers and preventing another epic oil spill from occurring in the future.
Jere Beasley and Environmental Section Head Rhon Jones, along with a team of lawyers from the law firm Beasley Allen, represented the State of Alabama as well as thousands of businesses and individuals in litigation seeking to hold BP accountable for damages resulting from the oil spill. Jones, along with lawyers Parker Miller, Jenna Fulk and Rick Stratton, were deputized by Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange as deputy attorneys general for the State of Alabama in this case.
In April 2016, Judge Barbier granted final approval to the settlement agreement to resolve damage claims related to the oil spill. The settlement totaled an estimated $20 billion and provided relief to states that suffered environmental damage and economic losses as a result of the massive oil spill – Alabama, Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi and Florida. The State of Alabama received more than $2 billion in total, which includes compensation for economic losses resulting from the spill, natural resource damages, and an apportionment of Clean Water Act civil fines and penalties. This is the largest environmental settlement in U.S. history.