The U.S. government’s current methods of estimating the environmental destruction BP’s 2010 oil spill unleashed on the Gulf of Mexico are inadequate and don’t fully account for all the damage done to the Gulf, a panel of scientists concluded in a National Research Council report.
The 254-page report, compiled by 16 scientists at the request of Congress, provides a detailed analysis of how the government’s efforts to put a price on the destruction fail to capture the full scope and magnitude of the environmental and economic damages the BP spill caused to the Gulf’s ecology, marine life, fisheries, and economy. The report included the input and support of dozens more researchers throughout the country.
The report calls for a near complete overhaul in the way the U.S. government is quantifying the oil spill’s environmental damage by taking a fuller approach that focuses on “ecosystem services.”
“The full value of losses resulting from the spill cannot be captured … without consideration of changes in ecosystem services – the benefits delivered to society through natural processes,” the report says.
“The ecosystem services approach is different from traditional approaches to damage assessment and restoration … because it focuses not on the natural resources themselves, but on the valuable goods and services these resources supply to people.”
The report goes on to say “taking an ecosystem services view can supplement traditional methods of assessing, or valuing, damage to natural resources by estimating flows of goods and services before and after an event.”
The report’s authors warned that “disruptions in the ecosystem caused by the oil spill could impair these services, leading to economic and social impacts that may not be apparent from an assessment of environmental damage alone.”
The government is currently focused on assigning a dollar value to each turtle killed by the spill and each parcel of wetland smothered in oil, then tallying up those losses to calculate restorations costs – a method that the report’s authors warn may prove to be dangerously shortsighted.
The Guardian quoted one attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council who said the current approach is flawed: “It’s more human economy centered, and less centered in the idea that wild things and wild places have an inherent value – whether or not they make somebody’s cash register ring.”
Since the BP oil spill erupted, a record number of dead dolphins continues to wash ashore. Scientists have also identified an alarming die-off of organisms that form the base of the Gulf’s food chain, dead coral colonies that were healthy before the spill, and even a plunge in the insect population in affected wetlands. Sick fish with oil-clogged livers and mutated shrimp continue to turn up in the Gulf after three years as well.
According to The Guardian, “The experts involved in drafting the report said … they believed their findings could still influence the settlement of environmental claims against BP brought by the federal government and five state governments.”
However, they believe that their findings will likely play a more significant role in future disasters.
Scientists who contributed to the report hope it will help shift more focus from the immediate economic concerns to the bigger picture. Many politicians along the Gulf Coast are using BP restoration money to fund economic development projects on the coast while tons of toxic oil and tar still smother the sea floor.