The 2010 BP oil spill caused damages worth $17.2 billion to the natural resources in the Gulf of Mexico, according to a new study released on the seventh anniversary of the largest oil spill in US history.
This is the first comprehensive appraisal of the financial value of the natural resources damaged by the 134- million-gallon Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster on April 20, 2010 that killed 11 people.
"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," said Kevin Boyle, professor in the Virginia Tech College of Agriculture and Life Science in the US. The scientists developed a survey to put a dollar value on the natural resources damaged by the BP Deepwater spill by determining household willingness to pay for measures that would prevent similar damages should a spill of the same magnitude happen in the future.
Survey information included descriptions of damaged beaches, marshes, animals, fish, and coral.
On top of estimating the impact of the spill, the $17.2 billion represents the benefits to the public to protect against damages that could result from a future oil spill in the Gulf of a similar magnitude.
In May 2010, one month after the spill, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration commissioned a group of 18 researchers to put a dollar value on the natural resources damaged by the BP Deepwater spill.
To estimate Gulf Coast resource values, researchers created a scenario in which people were told that they could have a role in mitigating future damages by effectively paying for a prevention programme.
Final analysis showed that the average household was willing to pay $153 for a prevention programme. This rate was then multiplied by the number of households sampled to get the final valuation of $17.2 billion.
Last year, the oil and gas firm BP agreed to pay over $ 20 billion to the American government as damages over the oil spill.
"The results were eye-opening in that we could tell how much people really value marine resources and ecosystems," said Boyle.
"And even more meaningful because we did additional analysis that proved the legitimacy of oft-criticised values for environmental resources," he said.
The project team administered surveys to a large random sample of American adults nation-wide after three years of survey development.
The first round of surveys was administered face-to-face with trained interviewers while the remaining surveys were completed via mail.
Survey participants were informed of pre- and post-spill conditions in the Gulf of Mexico and what caused the oil spill.
They were then told about a prevention programme, which can be viewed as 100 per cent effective insurance against future spill damages, and that another spill would occur in the next 15 years.
With this information, participants were asked to vote for or against the programme, which would impose a one-time tax on their household.
"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," said Boyle.
The study was published in the journal Science.