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Thursday, February 7, 2013

Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill: Recent Activities and Ongoing Developments



Jonathan L. Ramseur
Specialist in Environmental Policy

Curry L. Hagerty
Specialist in Energy and Natural Resources Policy


In the wake of the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon offshore drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico on April 20, 2010, the federal government, state governments, and responsible parties faced an unprecedented challenge. An oil discharge continued for 84 days, resulting in the largest oil spill in U.S. waters—estimated at approximately 206 million gallons (4.9 million barrels).

Response activities, led by the U.S. Coast Guard, continue but have diminished substantially.


  • At the height of operations (summer of 2010), response personnel numbered over 47,000; as of January 2013, that figure has dropped to about 935. 
  • As of January 2013, approximately 404 miles of shoreline, which includes beaches, marsh, and other areas, remain oiled to some degree. 
  • As a responsible party, BP has spent over $14 billion in cleanup operations. 

To date, BP has paid over $10 billion to the federal government, state and local governments, and private parties for economic claims and other expenses, including response costs, related to the oil spill. BP estimates that a recently approved settlement will lead to an additional $7.8 billion in payments to private parties.

BP and other responsible parties have agreed to civil and/or criminal settlements with the Department of Justice (DOJ). Although some are awaiting court approval, settlements from various parties, to date, total almost $6 billion. BP’s potential civil penalties under the Clean Water Act, which could be considerable, are not yet determined.

The natural resources damage assessment (NRDA) process, conducted by federal, state, and other trustees, is ongoing, now in its restoration planning phase. BP agreed to pay $1 billion to support early restoration projects. Ten such projects have been funded to date, with aggregate estimated costs of approximately $71 million.

The 112
th Congress enacted two oil spill-related legislative proposals, including the following:


  • The RESTORE Act: enacted on July 6, 2012, as a subtitle in P.L. 112-141 (MAP- 21), it directs 80% of any administrative and civil Clean Water Act Section 311 penalty revenue into a newly created trust fund, which supports environmental and economic restoration projects in the Gulf states. 
  • The Pipeline Safety, Regulatory Certainty, and Job Creation Act of 2011: enacted on January 3, 2012 (P.L. 112-90), the act increases civil penalties for pipeline violations and requires a study of leak detection systems, a review of the regulations that apply to pipeline transport of “diluted bitumen” (i.e., oil sands), and an analysis whether such oil presents an increased risk of release. 

In 2011, the Secretary of the Department of the Interior (DOI) redefined the responsibilities previously performed by the Minerals Management Service (MMS) and reassigned the functions of the offshore energy program among three separate organizations: the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE), and the Office of Natural Resources Revenue (ONRR). These agencies have promulgated several rulemaking changes, some of which are based on issues raised by the Deepwater Horizon spill. .


Date of Report: January 31, 2013
Number of Pages: 15
Order Number: R42942
Price: $29.95

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