The $4.5 billion settlement for criminal charges against BP related to 2010's Deepwater Horizon oil spill will fund decades of scientific research. Much of that research will be conducted by scientists working for a variety of oceanic institutions in St. Petersburg.
For example, $350 million of the settlement will endow a 30-year monitoring program.
"Environmental monitoring and understanding the impacts of oil drilling and oil exploration are part of the reason that that pool of money was put together," said Dr. Steve Murawski. "We need to be much more vigilant in terms of monitoring what's going on in the oil patch to try to understand the low level chronic exposures that animals are subject to, so that we can actually disentangle the effects of a giant spill like this from the background."
The more pristine expanses of the Gulf of Mexico will also be documented.
"Scientifically, we got caught with our pants down here," Murawski said. "If you talk to almost any scientists in any discipline, there's very little information to compare now with what happened the day before the spill."
Researchers refer to that as baseline data. The long-term impacts of the Deepwater Horizon spill will also be studied – again, for decades. Researchers have already discovered much of the estimated two million barrels of crude sank to the bottom of the Gulf. They are also seeing lesions on a variety of fish species in that area at 100 times the normal rate.
Murawski pointed out a photo of a red snapper with lesions.
"For example, the red snapper. They look like they come from a polluted urban estuary, so basically there's oil in that environment," he said.
The settlement for civil charges has not been reached, but is expected to be two to three times greater than the criminal penalties. Much of that will also fund marine science research.
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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