provided by the contiguous United States. The GoM also has significant recreational fisheries in which 3.2 million citizens participated in 2008; 92 percent were coastal county residents (NMFS, 2010). Sponges, tunicates, bryozoans, and other invertebrates of offshore hard banks also contribute provisioning ecosystem services such as pharmacological extracts used for treatment of cancer, cardiovascular disease, infections, and inflammation.

The long-term development and maintenance of oil and gas extraction infrastructure has generated a wealth of hydrocarbon resources from the GoM. In 2009, this extensive infrastructure generated offshore production of 29 percent of the total crude oil and 12 percent of the natural gas in the United States2; annual oil production in the GoM exceeded 1.6 million barrels of oil per day).3 However, this industry has also resulted in altered coastal zones and changed physical aspects of the coastline that may affect ecosystem services (Boesch and Rabalais, 1987), constructing numerous structures on the continental shelf and approximately 25,000 miles of active oil and gas pipeline on the GoM seafloor. Other pipeline corridors cross coastal wetlands. Inevitably, minor spills and leaks are associated with large-scale hydrocarbon production and shipping activities, but historically the GoM had been spared from a major industry-related accident.

That historical trend ended on April 20, 2010, when the Deepwater Horizon platform drilling the Macondo well in Mississippi Canyon Block 252 (DWH) exploded, killing 11 oil workers and injuring 17. This event, which resulted in nearly 5 million barrels (>200 million gallons) of crude oil released into the GoM over a period of three months, represents an industrial oil spill of unprecedented magnitude.4 The depth of the release (~1,500 m) and the potential impact this may have on poorly understood deep-sea ecosystems is also unprecedented. The combination of large commercial (such as menhaden, blue crabs, oysters, and brown, white, and pink shrimp) and recreational fisheries (such as red snapper, sea trout, and red drum), a vibrant tourism industry, and long-established oil production facilities makes the GoM the most economically productive body of water in North America. The spill had an immediate impact on this productivity. In the short term, up to 80,000 square miles of the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone were closed to fishing, resulting in loss of food, jobs, and recreation. Similarly, coastal tourism, beach-going, boating, and other services were heavily affected. The long-term impacts on these as well as other regulating and supporting

_____________

2 See http://www.eia.gov/special/gulf_of_mexico/index.cfm.

3 See http://www.epa.gov/oem/content/lawsregs/opaover.htm.

4 See http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/03/us/03flow.html.



The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement