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Scientific Papers Share Lessons Learned from the BP Oil Spill

A collection of papers now out in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) looks at the response to the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill in 2010, examining whether it was successful and how it could be improved. The release of the reports comes just days after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) suspended BP from obtaining new U.S. contracts due to its “lack of business integrity” following the Deepwater Horizon accident that killed 11 workers. After the explosion, the rig’s Macondo well began gushing crude oil, a leak that would continue for nearly three months.

Uncertainty surrounding the flow rate of the leaking oil was a key problem during the disaster, prompting these U.S. government scientists to recommend that future drilling permits require mechanisms to assess the flow rate.

Among other methods, dispersants were used to break down some of the oil after the spill. While dispersants have been used before, the 2010 BP spill was the first time they were added under the sea surface. Just as claims against the dispersant company were dismissed this week, a study—separate from the PNAS papers—suggests once the dispersants mix with oil, the mixture is more toxic.

In all, according to the 15 PNAS papers, information presented publicly during the spill was for the most part accurate. Oil was rapidly consumed by bacteria, and seafood was not contaminated by hydrocarbons or dispersants.

The Climate Post offers a rundown of the week in climate and energy news. It is produced each Thursday for National Geographic’s News Watch by Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.