Scientists have estimated that the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill caused $17.2 billion worth of damage in the first-ever natural resource survey. The survey results were calculated on how much the public were willing to pay for them in a one-time tax.
“This is proof that our natural resources have an immense monetary value to citizens of the United States who visit the Gulf and to those who simply care that this valuable resource is not damaged,” said Kevin Boyle, a professor of agricultural and applied economics in the Virginia Tech College of Agriculture and Life Sciences who was one of the authors of the paper.
One month after the oil spill in 2010, 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.
During large-scale accidents that causes damage to natural or cultural resources, government and industry can assess the value privately owned assets because of market transactions. More opaque is the value of natural assets that are not exchanged on the market, such as fishing or visiting a beach, or the value of those assets even when not used but which have value to the public.
The new survey seeks to remedy that challenge.
The survey interviewed a large random sample of American adults who were told about the state of the Gulf before the 2010 accident, what caused the accident, injuries to natural resources due to the spill, and a proposed program for preventing similar accidents in the future, and how much their household would a pay in extra taxes if the program was implemented.
“They were asked to vote for or against the program, which would impose a one-time tax on their household. Each respondent was randomly assigned to one of five different tax amounts: $15, $65, $135, $264 [or] $435,” stated the study authors.
The study also included face-to-face interviews. Respondents were also randomly separated in two groups that assessed the value for large injuries and smaller injuries.
Under small injuries the survey featured questions about the number of miles of oiled marshes, of dead birds, and of lost recreation trips. The larger set include the small injuries plus injuries to bottlenose dolphins, deep-water corals and young sea turtles.
In both sets, support for the program declined as the taxes increased, with the majority of respondents said they would support a tax increase of $15. When the spill caused a small number of injuries, a total of 52.2 percent said they would support a $15 tax and 43.5 percent a $65 tax. When the accident caused a larger number of injuries, 57.7 percent said they would support $15 tax, with 48.8 percent supporting a $65 tax.
Scientists concluded that an average household was willing to pay $153 for a prevention program. The rate was multiplied by the number of households sampled to get the final evaluation at $17.2 billion.
“The results were eye-opening in that we could tell how much people really value marine resources and ecosystems,” Boyle said. “And even more meaningful because we did additional analysis that proved the legitimacy of oft-criticized values for environmental resources.”
Findings of the study, titled: “Putting a value on injuries to natural assets: The BP oil spill,” was published in the latest issue of the journal Science, which was published on April 20.
The BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill began on April 20, 2010, in the Gulf of Mexico on the BP-operated Macondo Prospect. Eleven people were killed and it is considered the largest accidental marine oil spill in the history of the petroleum industry. The US government estimated the total discharge at 4.9 million barrels (210 million US gallons; 780,000 m3).
After several failed efforts to contain the flow, the well was eventually declared sealed on September 19, 2010, but reports in early 2012 indicated the well site was still leaking.
A massive response ensued to protect beaches, wetlands and estuaries from the spreading oil, utilizing skimmer ships, floating booms, controlled burns and 1.84 million US gallons (7,000 m3) of Corexit oil dispersant.
In November 2012, BP and the US Department of Justice settled federal criminal charges, with BP pleading guilty to 11 counts of manslaughter, two misdemeanors, and a felony count of lying to Congress. BP and the Department of Justice agreed to a record-setting $4.52 billion in fines and other payments. As of February 2013, criminal and civil settlements and payments to a trust fund had cost the company $42.2 billion.
In September 2014, a US District Court judge ruled that BP was primarily responsible for the oil spill because of its gross negligence and reckless conduct.
In July 2015, BP agreed to pay $18.7 billion in fines, the largest corporate settlement in US history.