The financial value of the natural resources damaged by the 134-million-gallon BP Deepwater Horizon spill in 2010 is set at $17.2 billion. The valuation was determined by Virginia Tech researchers after a six-year study of the impact of the largest oil spill in U.S. history.
A survey developed to put a dollar value on the natural resources damaged by the event was determined by household willingness to pay for measures that would prevent similar damages should a spill of the same magnitude happen in the future. Survey information included descriptions of damaged beaches, marshes, animals, fish and coral.
The project team administered surveys to a large random sample of American adults nationwide after three years of survey development. The first round of surveys was administered face-to-face with trained interviewers while the remaining surveys were completed via mail.
Survey participants were informed of pre- and post-spill conditions in the Gulf of Mexico and what caused the oil spill. They were then told about a prevention program, which can be viewed as 100 percent effective insurance against future spill damages, and that another spill would occur in the next 15 years. With this information, participants were asked to vote for or against the program, which would impose a one-time tax on their household.
Final analysis showed that the average household was willing to pay $153 for a prevention program. This rate was then multiplied by the number of households sampled to get the final valuation of $17.2 billion.
The researchers say the estimate can guide policymakers and the oil industry in determining not only how much should be spent on restoration efforts for the Deepwater spill, but also how much should be invested to protect against damages that could result from future oil spills.