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April 20, 2017 marked the 7th anniversary of the tragic BP Oil Spill.  That event cost 11 men their lives, seriously injured dozens, and caused billions of dollars in economic damages to businesses along the Gulf Coast.  But seven years later, the Gulf of Mexico is still hurting. Scientists at Virginia Tech University recently completed the first-ever financial evaluation of just how much damage the BP spill caused to the Gulf’s natural resources. The results of the study were in the newest issue of Science, which was published on April 20th. The findings show that the value of environmental damages to natural resource both in and around the Gulf of Mexico was$17.2 billion.

Just one month after the spill, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration commissioned a group of 18 researchers to set a dollar value on the damage to the Gulf’s natural resources. The researchers spent 3 years developing a survey to put a value on the natural resources damaged by the BP spill. The project team then administered the survey to a large sample of American adults nationwide.

The survey estimated the value of the damage by asking participants how much they would be willing to pay for a prevention plan. The findings were that the average household was willing to pay $153 to prevent a similar event from occurring. This average, as well as an estimate of damage, was taken and multiplied by the number of people surveyed to come up with the $17.2 billion figure. “This is proof that our natural resources have an immense monetary value to citizens of the United States who visit the Gulf and to those who simply care that this valuable resource is not damaged,” said Kevin Boyle, a professor at Virginia Tech College and an author of the paper.
Boyle also stated that these findings would be beneficial to help guide policymakers and the oil industry on how much to spend on restoration after oil spills and the amount to invest to prevent future spills. “The results were eye-opening in that we could tell how much people really value marine resources and ecosystems,” said Boyle. “Our estimate can guide policy makers 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,” said Boyle. “People value our natural resources, so it’s worth taking major actions to prevent future catastrophes and correct past mistakes.”


*Special thanks to Celeste Birdsall for her assistance in researching and drafting this article.

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