New Study Says BP Oil Spill Accelerated Louisiana Marsh Loss

By Alisha Renfro, Coastal Scientist, Mississippi River Delta Restoration Campaign

Shortly after the Macondo oil well erupted in the spring of 2010 – just 40 miles off of the coast of Louisiana – oil began washing up on marsh shorelines across the coast. In total, more than 450 miles of Louisiana’s marshes were visibly oiled.1

While this oil led to unprecedented damage to the environment and wildlife across the Gulf, we are still understanding the extent of the damage more than six years later. Results from a new U.S. Geological Survey-led study published in Geophysical Research Letters indicate that oiling of marsh in upper Barataria Bay, La., led to more widespread marsh shoreline retreat.

Map of extent and degree of maximum shoreline oiling from the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster. The black box indicates Barataria Bay, La. From Michel et al. 2013: http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0065087

Map of extent and degree of maximum shoreline oiling from the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster. The black box indicates Barataria Bay, La. From Michel et al. 2013

In short, the oil exacerbated Louisiana’s existing land loss crisis by speeding up the rate of marsh loss in oiled areas. Even two years after the spill, oiled marsh shorelines exposed to waves had greater rates of loss compared to nearby unoiled shorelines exposed to waves. Other studies have also linked oil from the spill to accelerated and long-lasting marsh shoreline retreat.2,3

Marshes in Barataria Bay were not the only natural resources impacted by the spill. After the spill, an extensive study was carried out to assess the extent of the damage to the natural resources of the Gulf. Damage was found to be widespread across habitats and organisms.

TAKE ACTION today to help restore these natural resources! Louisiana recently released its first Draft Restoration Plan under the Natural Resource Damage Assessment process, which proposes $22.3 million for restoration projects in Louisiana to address environmental damages resulting from the oil disaster and lays out a vision for future investments.

The draft plan includes proposed projects to restore Louisiana wetlands, coastal and nearshore habitats, and habitats essential for birds. It also recognizes sediment diversions as a crucial cornerstone to restoring the Mississippi River Delta, and the plan sets the stage for funding the construction of sediment diversions in the future. But to make the plan the best it can be, we need voices like yours.

Tell the Louisiana oil spill trustees to prioritize and plan for large-scale restoration projects, including sediment diversions, in their restoration plan.


[1] Michel J, Owens EH, Zengel S, Graham A, Nixon Z, Allard T, et al. (2013) Extent and Degree of Shoreline Oiling: Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, Gulf of Mexico, USA. PLoS ONE 8(6): e65087. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0065087

[2] McClenachan, G., R.E. Turner, and A.W. Tweel. 2013. Effects of oil on the rate and trajectory of Louisiana marsh shoreline erosion, Environmental Research Letters, 8, 044030.

[3] Silliman, B.R., J. Van De Koppel, M.W. McCoy, J. Diller, G.N. Kasozi, K. Earl, P.N. Adams, and A.R. Zimmerman. 2012. Degradation and resilience in Louisiana salt marshes after the BP-Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences U.S.A., 109, 11,234-11,239.