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Blog Category: Deepwater Horizon

Remembering a Little Known Oil Spill with Out-Sized Impacts

Remembering a Little Known Oil Spill with Out-Sized Impacts

Ten years ago, there was an oil spill that you’ve probably never heard of. The spill wasn’t as large as the Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico, and it didn’t occur in an environment as pristine as Prince William Sound which was affected by the Exxon Valdez accident in 1989. But this event had a significant impact on future oil spill response, restoration and maritime accident prevention. 

Just outside of Philadelphia on November 26, 2004, an oil tanker called the Athos I unknowingly ripped its hull on an 18,000 pound anchor hidden on the river bottom. This released more than 263,000 gallons of heavy oil into an industrialized stretch of the Delaware River. That accident set into motion a coordinated federal, state and local response with NOAA playing a significant role providing scientific support to the responding agencies and the eventual restoration of the damaged coastline. 

Every oil spill has impacts and this one, despite being a fraction of the Deepwater Horizon release, severely affected the region’s economy and environment. Commercial traffic on this active shipping route was halted for more than a week, delaying over two hundred vessels. Claims paid to affected businesses topped $162.6 million. 

The nearby Salem Nuclear Power Plant was also affected. Because some oil sank to the river bottom it had the potential of clogging the power plant’s critical cooling water intake system. This required operators to shut down two reactors for 11 days, at a cost of $33.1 million. Scientists at NOAA’s Office of Response and Restoration were instrumental in estimating when the river was safe for the power plant to restart operations. 

The Athos incident also caused serious environmental effects. Almost 12,000 birds died as a result of the spill. Spilled oil washed up on 280 miles of shoreline, which included sensitive marshes, beaches, and mudflats. In addition, the spill affected nearly 42,000 recreational boating and fishing trips along the river. 

NOAA’s Damage Assessment, Remediation, and Restoration Program, along with state and federal partners, tallied up environmental and recreational impacts and, in 2010, received $27.5 million from the National Pollution Funds Center. This money is being used for 10 restoration projects to benefit coastal communities and natural resources affected by the Athos oil spill. These projects are creating habitat for fish and wildlife, providing public access for recreation, increasing boater safety, and enhancing flood protection. To date, five projects have been completed, restoring 131 acres out of an eventual 332 acres of habitat. 

NOAA: All Federal Waters of the Gulf Once Closed to Fishing Due to Spill Now Open

NOAA map: Tuesday, April 19, 2011: The last area in federal waters closed to fishing due to the oil spill reopens (

More than 1,000 square miles opened today

The Commerce Department's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) today reopened to commercial and recreational fishing 1,041 square miles of Gulf waters immediately surrounding the Deepwater Horizon wellhead, just east of Louisiana. This is the twelfth and final reopening in federal waters since July 22, and opens all of the areas in Federal waters formerly closed to fishing due to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

This reopening was announced after consultation with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and under a reopening protocol agreed to by NOAA, the FDA, and the Gulf states.

“I am pleased to announce that all federal waters affected by the spill are now open to all fishing,” said Jane Lubchenco, Ph.D., under secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA Administrator. “I thank fishermen and the public for their patience and FDA for its support and cooperation throughout this process while we worked diligently to ensure the integrity of Gulf seafood.”

NOAA sampled this area between November 11 and November 14, 2010, March 12 and March 16, 2011, and March 28 and April 1, 2011, for potentially affected finfish, including tuna, swordfish, and escolar.  Read more in NOAA press release

Spotlight on Commerce: Dr. Jane Lubchenco, Under Secretary and Administrator for NOAA

Dr. Lubchenco Oversees Seafood Sampling After the Deepwater Horizon Spill

Ed. Note: This post is part of the Spotlight on Commerce series, which highlights members of the Department of Commerce who are contributing to the president's vision of winning the future through their work.

Dr. Jane Lubchenco is the Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and Administrator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

At NOAA, science underpins all that we do. One reason that I am so proud to serve as the under secretary for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator is the track record of excellent science at our agency, our focus on delivering essential services based on that science, and the Obama Administration’s commitment to making policy and management decisions informed by the best science available.  

When I first met with then President-elect Obama in mid-December 2008, we discussed ways that NOAA could provide America the best climate change science, restore her ocean’s vitality, provide the best possible weather forecasts and disaster warnings, and help our nation transition to more sustainable ways of living. After asking some very perceptive questions, his comment was simply, “Let’s do it!” Now, how refreshing is that?

As NOAA administrator, my responsibilities include promoting and enabling the science of oceans and the atmosphere; using science to provide services to save lives and property and enable the creation of jobs; and using science in our mission to be good stewards of oceans, coasts, the atmosphere and the planet.  

NOAA and FDA Announce Chemical Test for Dispersant in Gulf Seafood

Building upon the extensive testing and protocols already in use by federal, state and local officials for the fishing waters of the Gulf, NOAA and FDA have developed and are using a chemical test to detect dispersants used in the Deepwater Horizon-BP oil spill in fish, oysters, crab and shrimp. Trace amounts of the chemicals used in dispersants are common, and levels for safety have been previously set.

Experts trained in a rigorous sensory analysis process have been testing Gulf seafood for the presence of contaminants, and every seafood sample from reopened waters has passed sensory testing for contamination with oil and dispersant. Nonetheless, to ensure consumers have total confidence in the safety of seafood being harvested from the Gulf, NOAA and FDA have added this second test for dispersant when considering reopening Gulf waters to fishing.

Using this new, second test, in the Gulf scientists have tested 1,735 tissue samples including more than half of those collected to reopen Gulf of Mexico federal waters. Only a few showed trace amounts of dispersants residue (13 of the 1,735) and they were well below the safety threshold of 100 parts per million for finfish and 500 parts per million for shrimp, crabs and oysters. As such, they do not pose a threat to human health.  NOAA release

Scientists Release the First Rescued, Rehabilitated Sea Turtles Back into the Gulf

Photo of Kemp’s ridley sea turtleCommerce's NOAA administrator Dr. Jane Lubchenco and Adm. Thad Allen joined state, federal, and partner biologists today as they released 23 Kemp’s ridley sea turtles back into the Gulf of Mexico near Cedar Key, Fla., after the turtles were successfully rescued and rehabilitated from the effects of the Deepwater Horizon/BP oil spill.

“I'm pleased that Admiral Allen and I were able to assist with the release of these turtles. And we thank all of our partners in this rescue and rehabilitation effort,” said Dr. Lubchenco. “This is a wonderful day for all involved--but especially for the turtles.”

“This area near Cedar Key provides excellent habitat for Kemp’s ridley sea turtles and has long been known as an important habitat area for this species,” said Barbara Schroeder, NOAA’s national sea turtle coordinator. “Thanks to the efforts of our rescue teams and rehabilitation facility partners all of the turtles we released today have an excellent chance of surviving in the wild and contributing to the recovery of this species.”  Read full NOAA release

Secretary Locke Announces $31.3 Million in Restoration and Recovery Grants for Louisiana, Gulf

U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke visited Louisiana today to hear from local business owners and community members who have been directly affected by the Deepwater Horizon/BP oil spill. At an economic roundtable in Metairie, La., Locke announced $31.3 million in coastal restoration and economic development grants for Louisiana and the Gulf Coast.

“These grants are another sign of this administration’s commitment to help the Gulf Coast’s economy and environment recover in the wake of the BP oil spill,” Locke said.

A $30.7 million restoration grant, awarded to the Louisiana Office of Coastal Protection and Restoration by Commerce's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, will fund the restoration of a critical barrier headland near Port Fourchon, La. The headland, which experiences some of the highest shoreline retreat rates in the nation, protects vital bay and wetland habitat and property from storm surge and erosion. Louisiana’s coastal habitat is the state’s first line of defense during storms, reducing the devastating effects of wind, waves, and flooding.

In addition, Locke announced a $600,000 effort by Commerce’s Economic Development Administration (EDA) to fund the deployment of 21 Assessment and Evaluation teams to communities affected by the BP oil spill in the Gulf.  Read more

NOAA Reopens More Than 5,000 Square Miles of Closed Gulf Fishing Area

Map of Gulf WatersToday NOAA reopened 5,144 square miles of Gulf waters to commercial and recreational finfish fishing. The reopening was announced after consultation with FDA and under a reopening protocol agreed to by NOAA, the FDA, and the Gulf states.

Since July 3, NOAA data have shown no oil in the area, and United States Coast Guard observers flying over the area in the last 30 days have also not observed any oil. Trajectory models show the area is at a low risk for future exposure to oil and, most importantly, fish caught in the area and tested by NOAA experts have shown no signs of contamination.

“Consumer safety is NOAA’s primary concern, which is why we developed rigorous safety standards in conjunction with the FDA and the Gulf states to ensure that seafood is safe in the reopened area,” said Jane Lubchenco, Ph.D., under secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator. “We are confident that Gulf fish from this area is safe to eat and pleased that recreational and commercial fisherman can fish these waters again.”  Read more

Federal Science Report Details Fate of Oil from BP Spill

Alternate TextThe vast majority of the oil from the BP oil spill has either evaporated or been burned, skimmed, recovered from the wellhead or dispersed  much of which is in the process of being degraded. A significant amount of this is the direct result of the robust federal response efforts.

A third (33 percent) of the total amount of oil released in the Deepwater Horizon/BP spill was captured or mitigated by the Unified Command recovery operations, including burning, skimming, chemical dispersion and direct recovery from the wellhead, according to a federal science report released today.  See NOAA release

NOAA Administrator Discusses NOAA Ship Research Mission to Spill Area

Alternate TextCmdr. Shepard Smith, commanding officer, Administrator Lubchenco and Larry Mayer at press conference.NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson, a 208-foot survey vessel, sailed from New Orleans today to conduct a 10-day mission in the vicinity of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Researchers will take water samples and test advanced methods for detecting submerged oil while gathering oceanographic data in the area's coastal waters.

NOAA Ship Thomas JeffersonDr. Jane Lubchenco, Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and NOAA Administrator, Cmdr. Shepard Smith, commanding officer, NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson and Larry Mayer, professor and director, University of New Hampshire Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping held a news conference in New Orleans to discuss the research mission. Administrator Lubchenco offered more information on the NOAA effort on a live CNN segment earlier in the day.

Tracking the Spill
NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson dispatched to Gulf of Mexico
NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson ship information and background

NOAA’s Oil Spill Response in the Gulf of Mexico

NOAA and White House officials examine fish samples taken from spill area

As the nation’s leading scientific resource for oil spills, the Commerce Department's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has been on the scene of the BP spill from the start, providing coordinated scientific weather and biological response services to federal, state and local organizations.

NOAA has mobilized experts from across the agency to help contain the spreading oil spill and protect the Gulf of Mexico’s many marine mammals, sea turtles, fish, shellfish and other endangered marine life.

NOAA spill specialists are advising the U.S. Coast Guard on cleanup options as well as advising all affected federal, state and local partners on sensitive marine resources at risk in this area of the Gulf of Mexico. Additionally:

  • NOAA is predicting the oil spill’s trajectory and the path of the layers of oil floating on the surface. OR&R experts are conducting aerial surveys to update trajectory maps and visually track the movement of the spill.
  • NOAA’s National Weather Service is providing regular weather forecasts to a joint federal command center in Louisiana to facilitate operations planning and response efforts.
  • Experienced marine mammal spotters from NOAA’s Southeast Fisheries Science Center are participating in surveillance flights flown by the Office of Marine and Aviation Operations to assess the species and populations that may come in contact with the spill.
  • NOAA also is using experimental satellite data from our Satellite Analysis Branch to survey the extent of spill-related marine pollution.

As a major partner in the federal response to this evolving incident, NOAA will continue to provide the necessary coastal and marine expertise required for sound, timely decision-making and help protect the affected Gulf Coast communities and coastal marine environment.

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