Oil Still Washing Ashore One Year After BP Capped the Gulf Spill

It’s been a year since BP (NYSE:BP) stopped the flow of its damaged Macondo well in the Gulf of Mexico and crude oil is still washing ashore. As of July 9, roughly 491 miles of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida coastline were contaminated by BP oil, slightly less than half of the total number of miles oiled since the the U.S.’s worst offshore spill began.

Estimates have 4.9 million barrels of oil spilled into the Gulf after the Deepwater Horizon (NYSE:RIG) drilling rig exploded on April 20, 2010. It wasn’t until July 15, 2010 — almost three months after oil first began flowing freely into the ocean — that BP was able to cap the flow.

While Tim Zink, a spokesman for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration characterizes current oiling as having a light sheen with tar balls of all shapes and sizes, compared to heavy and moderate oiling experienced in the past, a recent Louisiana survey found that 5 miles of beaches and 8 miles of marsh were still heavily oiled.

And on July 15 of this year, BP chose to announce that it has so improved Gulf drilling operating standards that they exceed U.S. regulatory requirements. “BP’s commitment in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon (NYSE:RIG) incident is not only to restore the economic and environmental conditions among the affected areas of the Gulf Coast, but also to apply what we have learned to improve the way we operate,” said Chief Executive Officer Bob Dudley. The fact that BP shares remain about 30% below their pre-spill price might also have something to do with it.

Of course, nothing can reverse the effects of BP’s (NYSE:BP) negligence that led to last year’s disastrous oil spill. Eleven workers were killed and seventeen were injured when the $385 million rig exploded, with the spill shutting down thousands of square miles of fishing grounds for months and killing off scores of local wildlife. Seafood coming from the Gulf wasn’t officially declared safe by the government until March 4, 2011.

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The U.S. government estimates that 4.9 million barrels worth of oil were poured into the ocean over the course of the 87-day spill. BP estimates that the spill was probably closer to 4 million barrels, of which only 850,000 were captured, burned, or skimmed off the water, according to a 2010 annual report. As of July 7, damage claims and cleanup cost BP $6.57 billion, $500 million of which will go to the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative over the next 10 years, which will take samples and analyze different aspects of the spill in order to aid clean-up efforts and act to prevent another such catastrophe in the future.

Meanwhile, the government has collected 44,800 samples as evidence in a damage assessment in order to determine BP’s fines. In April, BP agreed to give $1 billion to restoration projects.