A Post Mortem on the Gulf Oil Spill

Eli is a contributing correspondent for Science magazine.

WASHINGTON, D.C.—How bad was the gulf oil spill for wildlife? The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Department of the Interior announced on Thursday official plans to quantify the damage, starting the process of developing a legally required restoration plan to restore the Gulf of Mexico to its pre-oil spill state. Input from scientists and policy experts will be central to the effort, said NOAA administrator Jane Lubchenco at a briefing here this morning at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (which publishes ScienceNOW).

The scoping process will involve a series of public meetings and a comment period; a team of government scientists, led by NOAA scientist Robert Haddad, will write a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement.

Lubchenco said the monetary value of impacts to species would be calculated by examining relationships between species and the spill’s effects on various habitats. “Though the oil is nearly—though not all—gone,” said Lubchenco, “damage done to a variety of species may not become clear for years to come.” Figuring out how to put a dollar value on the harms to various species will be “the challenge for the [damage assessment] team. It’s not an insignificant one,” she said.

The process, part of the official ongoing Natural Resource Damage Assessment, is mandated under the Oil Pollution Act of 1990.

Science will host a live chat on Monday at 11 a.m. EST with Samantha Joye, who has tracked the oil and gas released by BP's well.

See our complete coverage of the 2011 AAAS annual meeting in Washington, D.C.

AAAS 2011