Ten years ago SkyTruth analyzed satellite imagery to show the world that the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill was vastly larger than estimates provided to the public. SkyTruth’s analysis with Florida State University oceanographer Ian MacDonald set the stage for more accurate government estimates of the size of the spill, and helped form the basis for restoration funds to address the widespread damage. On April 14, 2020, Dr. MacDonald and SkyTruth’s President John Amos led a panel examining the implications of this disaster 10 years later, and exploring the risk of similar disasters occurring again. The webinar has ended, but the recorded version can be viewed here.
John Amos is an expert in the use of satellite images and other remote sensing data to understand and communicate local, regional and global environmental issues. Educated as a geologist (at the University of Wyoming for his M.S. and Cornell University for his B.S.), John spent 10 years applying image processing, image analysis, and digital mapping techniques to conduct environmental, exploration and resource assessment studies for the energy and mining industries and government entities. In 2001, he founded SkyTruth, a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to strengthening environmental conservation by illuminating environmental problems and issues through the use of satellite images, aerial photographs, and other kinds of remote sensing and digital mapping. In addition to his role as President of SkyTruth, he serves on the boards of Chesapeake Commons and Global Fishing Watch, a nonprofit organization formed by SkyTruth, Oceana and Google, and on the advisory board of The Ocean Foundation.
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Ian R. MacDonald, Ph.D. is Professor of Oceanography in the Department of Earth Ocean and Atmospheric Science at Florida State University. Dr. MacDonald is an internationally recognized authority on the biology and geology of marine oil seeps with over 100 peer-reviewed articles and over 80 reports and popular articles on related topics. He was a prominent voice for academic science during the Deepwater Horizon blowout and was one of the first to challenge the accuracy of official discharge rates in the early days of the emergency. Subsequently, he published scientific papers detailing the magnitude and distribution of surface oil and its impact on mesophotic corals for the National Resource Damage Assessment program, and the Deep-C and ECOGIG GOMRI consortia.
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Lois N. Epstein, P.E. is Arctic Program Director for The Wilderness Society, responsible for programs to protect Arctic ecosystems by ensuring that oil and gas operations are as safe and environmentally sound as possible and located in non-sensitive areas. She advocates for oil and gas regulatory and other safeguards in Alaska and nationally by testifying before Congress and other governmental bodies, engaging in onshore and offshore planning processes, performing analyses using governmental data, serving as a technical advisor to Native and non-Native members of the public, and speaking to diverse constituencies and the media. Before joining The Wilderness Society, Ms. Epstein was a private consultant on environmental policy issues and a senior engineer for several non-profit organizations. She is on the Boards of Directors of the two non-profit organizations, the Pipeline Safety Trust and the Alaska Public Interest Research Group. She also served on a number of federal government committees including the Transportation Research Board Committee on Performance-Based Safety Regulation, USDOT’s Technical Hazardous Liquid Pipeline Safety Standards Committee, and the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement’s Offshore Energy Safety Advisory Committee. In May 2010, Ms. Epstein advised the Department of the Interior on its safety report to the President following BP’s 2010 Gulf of Mexico spill. She is a licensed Professional Engineer and earned a master’s degree in civil engineering from Stanford University, a bachelor’s degree in English from Amherst College, and a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
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Samantha Joye is a microbiologist, an educator, a deep ocean explorer, and a vocal ocean and environmental advocate. Joye is a Regents’ Professor and also holds the Athletic Association Professorship in Arts and Sciences at the University of Georgia. She is a Professor in the Department of Marine Sciences and is an expert in microbial geochemistry, focusing on hydrocarbon and trace gas dynamics. Her work is highly interdisciplinary, bridging the fields of analytical chemistry, microbiology, and geology. Her research related to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill examined the distribution of deep water plumes of oil and gas, and her group continues to measure the activities of the microorganisms that break down oil and gas and assess the impacts of the spill on blue water benthic and pelagic ecosystems.
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Mark Davis is a Senior Research Fellow at Tulane University Law School and Director of the Institute on Water Resources Law and Policy. Prior to coming to the Law School Mr. Davis served for fourteen years as Executive Director of the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana, a broad based organization committed to the stewardship of Louisiana’s coast. He has a BS and JD from Indiana University and an MLT from Georgetown University and is a member of the bar in Indiana, the District of Columbia, Illinois and Louisiana. Mr. Davis has taught as an adjunct faculty member at the Indiana University School of Business (Indianapolis), IIT Chicago-Kent School of Law, and Loyola Law School (New Orleans). He is currently an adjunct instructor at the Tulane University Law School.
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Panelist Statements and Slides
John Amos Statement (PDF)
Lois Epstein Statement (PDF)
Webinar Slides (Google Slides)
SkyTruth revealed the Deepwater Horizon spill was far larger than BP claimed.
Maps and Animations
Animated interactive map displaying more than 18,000 reports of oil and gas leaks and spills in the Gulf of Mexico since the BP / Deepwater Horizon disaster in 2010. Data collected from the U.S. Coast Guard’s National Response Center (NRC).
Animated image (GIF) of the map showing 18,000 NRC pollution reports in the Gulf since the BP spill.
Interactive map showing the active oil and gas platforms and seafloor pipelines in the Gulf of Mexico. Platforms installed after the BP / Deepwater Horizon disaster are highlighted. The 200 meter (656 feet) water depth line indicates the threshold for “deepwater” operations and royalty relief. In general, deepwater drilling involves higher-pressure wells and significantly greater technical complexity and risk than shallow water wells. Data collected from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM).
Interactive map of all the oil and gas wells that have been drilled in the Gulf of Mexico. Many of these wells have been plugged and abandoned. Some may be “temporarily” shut in and not producing, but have not been plugged. Wells drilled since the BP / Deepwater Horizon disaster are highlighted. Data collected from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM).
Papers and Articles
‘Broken’ Interior agency struggles 10 years after Gulf spill
E&E News, Heather Richards and Michael Doyle, Apr. 13, 2020. [Investigative report describes staffing, morale, management and leadership problems at the key Federal agency overseeing the safety of offshore drilling] Read article
Chronic, Anthropogenic Hydrocarbon Discharges in the Gulf of Mexico
Samira Daneshgar Asl, John Amos, Paul Woods, Oscar Garcia-Pineda, Ian R. MacDonald, Science Direct, July 2016, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.dsr2.2014.12.006. [Research measuring the underreporting of oil leaks and spills in the Gulf of Mexico including the chronic Taylor Energy leak] Read paper
Minor oil spills are often bigger than reported
Nature, Mark Schrope, Jan. 28, 2013. [Brief description of research by Florida State University and SkyTruth documenting the underreporting of oil leaks and spills in the Gulf of Mexico] Read article
Remote sensing assessment of oil spills near a damaged platform in the Gulf of Mexico
Shaojie Sun, Chuanmin Hu, Oscar Garcia-Pineda, Vassiliki Kourafalou, Matthieu Le Hénaff, Yannis Androulidakis, Science Direct, Nov. 2018. [Research quantifying the leakage rate from the Taylor Energy site, referred to here as MC-20] Read paper
Impacts, Perception, and Policy Implications of the BP/Deepwater Horizon Oil and Gas Disaster
The Environmental Law Reporter, Elliott A. Norse and John Amos, Nov. 2010. [Early lookback in spill aftermath] Read article
Natural oil slicks in the Gulf of Mexico visible from space
1993), Natural oil slicks in the Gulf of Mexico visible from space, J. Geophys. Res., 98( C9), 16351– 16364, doi:10.1029/93JC01289. [Seminal research on detecting oil slicks using radar satellite images] Read paper, , , , , , and (
Classification of oil spill by thicknesses using multiple remote sensors
Oscar Garcia-Pinedaa, Gordon Staples, Cathleen E. Jones, Chuanmin Hu, Benjamin Holt, Villy Kourafalou, George Graettinger, Lisa DiPinto, Ellen Ramirez, Davida Streett, Jay Choh, Gregg A. Swayze, Shaojie Sun, Diana Garcia, Francisco Haces-Garcia, Remote Sensing of Environment, Jan. 2020. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.rse.2019.111421. [Research into remote sensing for oil slick detection and measurement, featuring analysis of persistent slicks at the Taylor Energy site (referred to as MC20)] Read paper
Experimental L-Band Airborne SAR for Oil Spill Response at Sea and in Coastal Waters
Cathleen E. Jones and Benjamin Holt, Sensors, 2018. [Research into radar remote sensing of oil slicks featuring investigations of the BP / Deepwater Horizon oil spill and the chronic Taylor Energy leak] Read paper
Deepwater disaster: how the oil spill estimates got it wrong
Ian MacDonald, Significance, 2019, https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1740-9713.2010.00449.x. [2010, Dr. MacDonald critiques the spill-rate estimates made by BP and others during the BP / Deepwater Horizon disaster]. Read paper
Detection of Oil near Shorelines during the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Using Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR)
Oscar Garcia-Pineda, Jamie Holmes, Matt Rissing, Russell Jones, Cameron Wobus, Jan Svejkovsky and Mark Hess. Remote Sens. 2017, 9(6), 567; https://doi.org/10.3390/rs9060567. Read paper
Oil Spills and Human Health: Contributions of the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative
Eklund, R. L., Knapp, L. C., Sandifer, P. A., & Colwell, R. C. ( 2019). Oil Spills and Human Health: Contributions of the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative. GeoHealth, 3, 391– 406. https://doi.org/10.1029/2019GH000217. Read paper
Natural and unnatural oil slicks in the Gulf of Mexico
I. R. MacDonald O. Garcia‐Pineda A. Beet S. Daneshgar Asl L. Feng G. Graettinger D. French‐McCay J. Holmes C. Hu F. Huffer I. Leifer F. Muller‐Karger A. Solow M. Silva G. Swayze, J. Geophys. Res. Oceans, 120, 8364– 8380 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1002/2015JC011062. Read paper
Underwater Mudslides are the Biggest Threat to Offshore Drilling, and Energy Companies aren’t Ready for Them
The Conversation, Ian MacDonald (2019). Read article
The Fifth Circuit Restricts BSEE’s Enforcement Authority Over Offshore Contractors in the Gulf of Mexico
The National Law Review, Sept. 29, 2017. Read article
Trump’s Risky Offshore Oil Strategy
The New York Times, Bob Graham and
Designing Safety Regulations for High-Hazard Industries
The National Academies of Science, Engineering, Medicine, 2018. (Especially the introduction which discusses Deepwater Horizon and how hard it is to measure overall safety when you have low-frequency, high-consequence events in high hazard industries like offshore drilling.) Read book
Illinois Team Wins Oil Spill Cleanup X CHALLENGE
National Geographic, by Marianne Lavelle, Oct. 13, 2011. Read article
Why We Pretend to Clean Up Oil Spills
Smithsonian Magazine, Andrew Nikiforuk, July 12, 2016. Read article
Key Rollbacks to Safety Standards
compiled by Lois Epstein, 2020. Read PDF
Microbial Genomics of the Global Ocean System
Samantha Joye, Joel E. Kostka, 2020, ESSOAr. https://www.essoar.org/doi/10.1002/essoar.10502548.1. Read paper
Potential influence of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on phytoplankton primary productivity in the northern Gulf of Mexico
Li, Yao & Hu, Chuanmin & Quigg, Antonietta & Gao, Huilin. (2019). Potential influence of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on phytoplankton primary productivity in the northern Gulf of Mexico. Environmental Research Letters. 10.1088/1748-9326/ab3735. Read paper
Sustained deposition of contaminants from the Deepwater Horizon spill
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Chemical dispersants can suppress the activity of natural oil-degrading microorganisms
Sara Kleindienst, Michael Seidel, Kai Ziervogel, Sharon Grim, Kathy Loftis, Sarah Harrison, Sairah Y. Malkin, Matthew J. Perkins, Jennifer Field, Mitchell L. Sogin, Thorsten Dittmar, Uta Passow, Patricia M. Medeiros, and Samantha B. Joye. PNAS December 1, 2015 112 (48) 14900-14905 https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1507380112. Read paper • See Appendix
Responses of Microbial Communities to Hydrocarbon Exposures
Joye, S.B., S. Kleindienst, J.A. Gilbert, K.M. Handley, P. Weisenhorn, W.A. Overholt, and J.E. Kostka. 2016. Responses of microbial communities to hydrocarbon exposures. Oceanography 29(3):136–149, http://dx.doi.org/10.5670/oceanog.2016.78. Read paper
Using Natural Abundance Radiocarbon To Trace the Flux of Petrocarbon to the Seafloor Following the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill
Jeffrey Chanton, Tingting Zhao, Brad E. Rosenheim, Samantha Joye, Samantha Bosman, Charlotte Brunner, Kevin M. Yeager, Arne R. Diercks, and David Hollander. Environmental Science & Technology. Read paper
Lessons Unlearned: The Legal and Policy Legacy of the BP Deepwater Horizon Spill
Mark Davis. 3 Wash. & Lee J. Energy, Climate & Env’t. 155 (2012), https://scholarlycommons.law.wlu.edu/jece/vol3/iss2/2. Read paper
Oil slick detection, modeling and measurement expert:
Water Mapping, LLC
1041 EdgeWater Lane
Gulf Breeze, FL 32563
Litigation related to Trump Administration rollbacks:
Human health impacts related to BP spill and dispersants:
Riki Ott, PhD
Impacts on fisheries:
Tracey T. Sutton, Ph.D.
Director, DEEPEND and DEEPEND|RESTORE programs
Guy Harvey Oceanographic Center, Halmos College of Natural Sciences and Oceanography
Nova Southeastern University
8000 N. Ocean Dr., Dania Beach, FL 33004
Top image attribution: NASA/GSFC, MODIS Rapid Response AND demis.nl AND FT2 / Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.