Meeting assesses Deepwater impact

“The BP/Deepwater Horizon oil spill suddenly became the benchmark for assessing (oil spill) impacts.” Sylvain Archambault,   protected areas coordinator with the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society Quebec chapter

The Deepwater Horizon/BP oil leak that started April 20, 2010, in the Gulf of Mexico, killing 11 people, not only had local impact but also changed the way people in other countries see oil and gas exploration.

“The Deepwater Horizon had an impact by changing our perspective on oil development,” said Sylvain Archambault, protected areas coordinator with the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society Quebec chapter.

While there had been concerns about proposals that would introduce oil exploration in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, Archambault said the Deepwater Horizon oil spill made things more concrete.

“Now it became real. We had images,” he told an audience at the first day of a three-day Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill and Ecosystem Science Conference on Monday. “The BP/Deepwater Horizon oil spill suddenly became the benchmark for assessing (oil spill) impacts.”

The conference was started through a partnership of government agencies and private organizations to bring together researchers who have studied the Deepwater Horizon/BP oil spill and its impacts since 2010. The 14 partnering sponsors include the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative, National Science Foundation, U.S. Geological Survey, Gulf of Mexico Alliance and the American Petroleum Institute.

Chuck Wilson, chief science officer with the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative, and a conference organizer, said the event is a chance for people to hear about new research and find out what other people are working on since research funding had come from many different sources.

Research presentations range from new computer modeling techniques, impact to deepwater corals, economic impact and impacts to fishery resources.

One conference theme is to look at how the oil spill impacted people either through physical health, financially or in people’s total “well-being.” An aspect of that is how people perceive the oil spill through their experience with the compensation system for damages that was set up in the wake of the spill.

“In the case of BP oil spill, we have had an unprecedented compensation system,” said Brian Mayer, assistant professor of sociology at the University of Arizona, and that helped create real and perceived inequalities among people who received or did not receive compensation.

Mayer also said there was a feeling among some people that the expectations for what could be done for restoration and recovery were very high.

Other research looked at the physical health side and most of it is ongoing so results and conclusions are unavailable.

The conference also includes a public form to be held from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday in the Grand Ballroom at the Marriott Hotel, 555 Canal St., New Orleans. Although the public forum is free, space is limited so registration is required by 4 p.m. Tuesday.

Speakers at the public forum will include Donald Boesch, president of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science and member of the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling; and Steven Murawski, professor in the College of Marine Science at the University of South Florida.

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