Seven years ago yesterday, the worst oil spill in history began. Following a violent explosion, the BP Deepwater Horizon oil rig spewed out 134 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of New Orleans. Even following the huge amount of scientific inquiry and publicity surrounding the disaster, the total cost of the spill has only now been calculated.
A six-year study by Virginia Tech, published in the journal Science on the seven-year anniversary of the oil spill, has found that the infamous event in 2010 caused damage to natural resources that the public values at $17.2 billion.
Putting a dollar value on the natural environment is fairly hard to do. After all, a pelican doesn’t exactly have a monetary value. So the researchers came to the figure by asking how much each household would pay in extra taxes to create measures to prevent a future oil spill in the next 15 years. The average household was willing to pay $153 for a prevention program. That rate was multiplied by the number of households sampled to get the $17.2 billion figure.
All the surveyed participants were informed beforehand about the context of the oil spill conditions, the geography of the local region, as well as its after-effects.
A pelican spotted in Grand Isle following the oil spill. Louisiana GOHSEP/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)
"This is proof that our natural resources have an immense monetary value to citizens of the US who visit the Gulf and to those who simply care that this valuable resource is not damaged," lead author Kevin Boyle, Virginia Tech College of Agriculture and Life Science in the US, said in a statement
Deepwater Horizon remains the worst oil spill in history by some margin. Eleven rig workers were presumed dead after going missing without a trace and 17 people were seriously injured. What followed was unimaginable damage to the Gulf of Mexico and its biodiversity, including skyrocketing bottlenose dolphin deaths and damage to sea turtles throughout the Atlantic, to name a few.
It also cost BP an estimated $62 billion, when taking into consideration cleanup operations, lawsuits, economic requirements, federal penalties, and so on.
"Our estimate can guide policy makers and the oil industry in determining not only how much should be spent on restoration efforts for the Deepwater spill, but also how much should be invested to protect against damages that could result from future oil spills," added Boyle. "People value our natural resources, so it's worth taking major actions to prevent future catastrophes and correct past mistakes."