Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill: Coastal Wetland and Wildlife Impacts and Response [August 5, 2010]   [open pdf - 716KB]

"Impacts of oil spills on wetland ecosystems depend on multiple factors, including the type of oil, exposure of the oil to weathering factors before it reaches the shore, the season in which the spill occurs, etc. Estimating wildlife impacts is particularly difficult in this case because the spill occurred far offshore, and the initial wildlife mortality came far out in the Gulf, where animals sank without reaching the shore. With the arrival of oil closer to the shore, more animals could be counted. Moreover, because the Gulf wetlands host many species of birds during seasonal migrations, impacts of the spill could be felt in areas well away from the Gulf. Mitigation and cleanup of damage to wetlands is far from an exact science and involves many tradeoffs: there is no single, best solution. This report describes a range of options from mechanical recovery and use of dispersants to doing nothing. Among other issues is a seemingly simple question: who decides what to do? But the answer is complex. The organizational structure for deciding how to respond to oil spills is specified in the National Contingency Plan (NCP), which was created administratively and has been broadened by the Clean Water Act, the Superfund law, and the Oil Pollution Act. Under the NCP structure, the Coast Guard is the lead federal agency for overseeing response and cleanup. Oil has reached more than 10% of Gulf shoreline, but until oil from the well stopped flowing, very little cleanup of wetlands was occurring, because of both the ongoing risk of greater harm from cleanup and the potential for re-oiling. As cleanup proceeds, a number of questions arise. To cite only two, what factors will determine cleanup strategies, and how are needs to improve scientific understanding of the spill's impacts being considered?"

Report Number:
CRS Report for Congress, R41311
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