Categorized | Fossil Fuels

Months Later, Oil Still on Gulf Shores

There was a collective sigh of relief when the BP Deepwater Horizon well was finally declared dead in mid-September. Without oil spewing into the Gulf in visible black plumes it’s easy to think that the worst oil spill in U.S. history has officially ended. But it hasn’t.

The well was first temporarily capped on July 15th. However, even though the ‘tap’ was turned off, there was still so much oil circulating in the Gulf that more miles of beach and shoreline were oiled later in July.  In its report this week, the government reports that there are still nearly 600 miles of shoreline throughout Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida that are experiencing impacts from oil.

Graph showing miles of shoreline impacted by oil over time, from April 20, 2010- October 27, 2010

Data compiled from weekly and daily updates from Restore the Gulf:

Although oil is still coming ashore, the government is making the transition from response to recovery. On September 28th, the Obama Administration released its recovery plan for the Gulf coast, focusing on ecosystem restoration, economic impacts and human health. On one hand, the plan is optimistic, focusing on the opportunity to address some long-standing environmental problems through spill-related restoration efforts. The restoration plan recognizes that for new efforts to be successful, they must address existing threats to the Gulf’s ecosystem such as coastal erosion, loss of wetlands, imperiled fisheries and climate change.

On the other hand, the report readily admits that we simply don’t know what the long-term ecological impacts of the oil spill will be, let alone the best ways to address those impacts. The amount of time needed for sensitive coastal wetlands to recover depends on a number of variables, including water depth, the damage to the underlying sediments, and the type of wetland. For example, mangrove swamps are particularly vulnerable because of their aerial root systems.

The Obama Administration’s recovery plan doesn’t attempt to resolve these uncertainties. Perhaps the real challenge that the recovery plan poses is: can we make lemonade out of this disaster and take on much needed restoration work? I’m all for making the best of a very bad situation, but we should not forget that the shores of the Gulf are still being damaged and America’s wildlife heritage is again in harm’s way with each new high tide in the Gulf.

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- who has written 10 posts on dotWild.

Allison Sribarra is the Conservation Policy Coordinator at Defenders of Wildlife. Alli works on a variety of issues for Defenders' conservation policy program including federal lands policy and conservation planning.

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dotWild is the blog of scientists and policy experts at Defenders of Wildlife, a national, nonprofit membership organization dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities.