Large Oil Spills

Science Center Objects

Oil spills, such as the 2010 Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, are impactful environmental disasters that have long lasting effects to the landscape, native species, and inhabitants who depend on the area. The USGS explores the adverse effect that large-scale oil spills have on the environment and helps responders prepare for environmental recovery and rehabilitation.


As the name implies, an oil spill refers to any uncontrolled release of crude oil, gasoline, fuels, or other oil by-products into the environment. Oil spills can pollute land, air, or water. Although the term "oil spill" often makes people think of spills in the ocean and coastal waters, such as in 2010 during the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico or the 1989 Exxon Valdez Oil Spill in Alaska, it also refers to land spills, too. Spills are incredibly harmful to those species that come in direct contact with the polluted areas. And depending on the size and scale of an oil spill, the recovery time can take days to decades.


Image: USGS Collects Sediments Samples at Pascagoula Beach

USGS scientists collected environmental data and samples at beach in response to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico (Credit: Shane Stocks).


The USGS responded to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill by establishing baseline conditions in water chemistry in coastal waters and bed sediments prior to landfall of the oil spill. After the spill reached shore, the USGS conducted additional sampling in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida to assess the effect of the oil spill on the Gulf coastal environment. Sampling locations include barrier islands and coastal wetlands that are critical to fish and wildlife in the Gulf of Mexico. The USGS provided decision support tools to help land managers and first environmental responders mitigate the effects of the oil spill and assist in restoration efforts.



The USGS monitors and assesses the impacts of oil spills on the environment. Here are a few additional resources to highlight USGS work on oil spills across the country. By no means are these the only oil spill studies the USGS conducts, but these links offer a good starting point to explore more research.



U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

The Deepwater Horizon