A new study by SkyTruth and MCBI shows how BP and the Federal government dramatically understated the amount of oil and gas gushing into the Gulf of Mexico after the Deepwater Horizon exploded. The study, “Impacts, Perception, and Policy Implications of the Deepwater Horizon Oil and Gas Disaster” by MCBI’s Dr. Elliott Norse and SkyTruth’s John Amos, appears in a special issue of Environmental Law Reporter News and Analysis, a publication of the Environmental Law Institute. The article can be downloaded here (PDF file).
The article chronicles 9 significant observations made by SkyTruth and other independent analysts using satellite images, including:
- Our calculation, released just one week after the rig exploded, that the spill was at least 20 times larger than the official estimate and had already surpassed the Exxon Valdez incident as our nation’s worst oil spill
- The surprising discovery of another nearby oil spill, a chronic leak from storm-damaged wells, unrelated to the BP disaster
- Visual confirmation of oil entering the Gulf’s Loop Current
- A cumulative BP spill footprint spanning 68,000 square miles of the Gulf’s surface, larger than the state of Oklahoma
Moreover, the authors point out that public attention was overly focused on the easily visible impacts of oil on the beaches and marshes, not the unseen impacts far offshore, in the depths, where the spill was occurring. The authors pose 8 important questions about the hidden subsea impacts that must be addressed and applied to future ocean policy and spill-response decisionmaking.
Finally, Dr. Norse offers 9 major conclusions from this tragic experience and 5 recommendations for safer, environmentally smarter offshore drilling and ocean management policy. He emphasizes the importance of incorporating offshore energy development into the new National Ocean Policy using ecosystem-based spatial planning.
Dr. Norse was the Environmental Protection Agency’s expert on impacts of oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico during the late 1970s, before he founded MCBI. Mr. Amos spent 10 years working for companies that help the oil and gas industry find new places to drill before he founded SkyTruth.
Like the similar Montara blowout and spill off Australia last year, the BP / Deepwater Horizon disaster demonstrated again that expert independent analysts can contribute crucial, timely information to the public during an environmental crisis.
“For future pollution detection and monitoring, it’s critical that we add radar imaging satellites to the nation’s civilian fleet so that we no longer rely on foreign-operated satellites to provide this information,” Mr. Amos said.
SkyTruth uses satellite images, remote sensing and digital mapping to investigate and illustrate environmental conditions and incidents worldwide. Founded in 2001, SkyTruth is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization based in Shepherdstown WV.
Marine Conservation Biology Institute is a nonprofit organization dedicated to securing protection for the world’s marine ecosystems. Founded in 1996, MCBI is headquartered in Bellevue WA, and has offices in Glen Ellen CA and Washington DC.