Retired U.S. Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen, who headed the BP oil spill cleanup in the Gulf of Mexico, was the keynote speaker of a three-day conference that brought more than a thousand scientists and public officials to New Orleans this week for a comprehensive review of the spill’s effects on the environment and all aspects of life in the Gulf region.
Hosted by the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative, the Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill & Ecosystem Science Conference offered a broad range of scientific presentations exploring the environmental and socioeconomic impacts of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill on the Gulf Coast and its communities. Subjects included the Gulf ecosystems’ prospects for recovery, what happened to the giant spill, the impact of oil on the food chain, developments in oil-dispersant technology, the impact on the seafood industry, the health of women and children in affected communities, and the effectiveness of oil spill response and cleanup.
Rita Colwell, chairwoman of the board of the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative, which administers a $500 million scientific research grant from BP, told the Times-Picayune the conference was “designed to bring together the research community in the Gulf of Mexico and scientists interested in working in this area, and in the area of oil spill research.”
In his speech kicking off the event, Adm. Allen touched on the difficulties he faced as the national incident commander charged with coordinating a response to an oil spill unprecedented not just in size but in depth. BP’s blown-out Macondo well sat a mile below the water’s surface, gushing thousands of gallons a day into the Gulf just 50 miles from Louisiana’s coast.
According to Allen, one of the greatest challenges involved explaining to state and local officials and the general public how the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, passed after the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989, set the rules for the federal government’s response, which required the “responsible party” to stop the spill, arrange a cleanup, identify environmental damage with the assistance of federal and state authorities, and develop a plan to restore damaged areas. The federal government would supervise the response, but BP and its Deepwater Horizon partners had to clean up the spill, Allen explained.