The First Digital Map of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill

The First Digital Map of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill

Oil sheen contained in Talbert Channel near site of last year’s major O.C. pipeline spill. Photo: Reuters

In the last year, there were numerous leaks of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, making it one of the largest sources of the world’s climate pollution. On August 20, 2018, a leak began, spilling more than 200,000 gallons of oil into the waters off Alabama. This spill has been called the worst accidental oil spill to be recorded in the history of the offshore drilling industry.

The spill and cleanup continued until October 2019, when the oil finally began to sink to the bottom of the sea. An estimated 1.5 million barrels of oil and another 30 million gallons of byproducts remained in the ocean. About 250 miles from the site was the Alabama Department of Environmental Quality, which had been charged with cleaning up the ocean floor, a job the department has been handling since the spill began in August.

The problem? There was no clear map to guide them. The spill only occurred in one section of the water, and they did not know where the oil had been washed up from the deep. Then, on November 28, a group of researchers, led by the University of Central Florida, developed the first digital map to mark the location of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. According to the map, the oil in the water was spread out widely, and it looked as if it had gone miles from where oil was first discovered—about 3,300 yards south—on November 20 last year.

The map helps explain a lot about the spill, what happened to it, and who was responsible—and the extent of the cleanup.

For the past 25 months, the agency that was charged with cleaning up the spill has been focused on the south end of the spill, in the so-called Channel of Prudhoe Bay. By comparing the exact location where the oil spill began, with the exact location where it ended, they have been able to mark the locations of the two most visible oil slicks.

The map, which researchers found while studying the Deepwater Horizon well, shows that the oil spill in the Channel expanded over 20 miles, and then contracted back over the next 8 miles.

According to researchers, this indicates that the oil in the Channel went farther

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