NOTE: This again was a part of my degree, it has also been published in other locations but is entirely my own work and was completed in February of this year.
The Deepwater horizon oil spill was the largest recorded oil spill since the beginning of the petroleum industry. The oil spill began when the mobile drilling unit based off the shores of the Gulf of Mexico exploded. The picture above shows the fires from the explosion (Wiki, 2010). This occurred on the 22nd of April 2010; 87 days later the oil stopped leaking from the drilling point. On the 19th of September 2010 the well was declared officially sealed. Although the numbers change depending on who you are asking the US government estimated that a total of 4.9 million barrels of oil was spilt or 780,000m3 (National Response Team, 2011). An area of 176,100km2 was covered by the oil that caused a large range of damaging effects to many vitally important habitats including wetlands and sea grass meadows and some reports have stated that the well could still be leaking.
The Farmers Daughter: The True Cost
The oil spill was a huge ecological disaster that caused a great deal of damage and that level of damage comes with a price tag. Your questions may be what is that price tag? What does this have to do with my dear little farm? Or even how does this disaster effect agriculture in general.
Well I’ll answer them in that order. The true cost of such a huge oil spill can be difficult to work out simply because the whole thing affected so many different parties. BP who controlled the drill also wanted to minimize the bad image they were getting at the time so their version of the story may be a bit different to that of everyone else’s. It’s been calculated that the cost to clean up the spill and the penalties that BP suffered may be upwards of 90 billion US dollars (Huffington Post, 2012). Although this doesn’t include other groups that worked to aid the many organisms and habitats that were affected by the oil spill.
How does the oil spill affect agriculture or the farm? Well it was more of an example I used to illustrate how nature conservation can often have a very blurred price tag. Speaking from personal experience I know many farmers like the objective cost of farming. The cost of cattle at a market although it fluctuates is objective. It will be an exact amount. So when looking at the cost of how much it will cost to improve biodiversity in agricultural grassland could be confusing. This could be the case for a number of reasons. Firstly what’s needed to improve the biodiversity in an area is different for each area, some may need the introduction of different species some may need a more drastic change to their management techniques. Secondly due to the individual nature of cases they each come with their own costs. There can often be a complicated system with who pays for it all as well as any funding that is available.
Although agriculture is an area with a lot of potential to maximise both productivity and biodiversity the minefield of funding regimes and costing can be just too much to deal with for a lot of farmers so they do nothing. I know in the case of the farm that I grew up on I think mostly due to my own nagging on to my parents we got on to the entry level stewardship scheme and I encouraged a management scheme that reduced the amount of artificial fertilisers used.
The other side of the cost is the cost of not doing anything at all. If there hadn’t been a clean up operation the damage from the oil spill would still be ongoing. This damage would’ve not only effected a wide range of sea birds, fish and other marine life but also would have effected many other areas too such as the tourism of the area. The image below shows some of the oil that washed up on the beaches in Mexico (Guardian, 2010).
This isn’t a stand alone circumstance either if money isn’t put into nature conservation the consequences have the potential to be incredibly damaging. For example it has been shown that a continued and growing use of artificial fertilisers in farming often leads to leaching of these nutrients. The leaching ends up with nutrients in water systems and that can aid in algal blooms and eutrophication (Cardenas et al., 2011).
So the question is what is the true cost of nature conservation? For that there is no clear answer but what I can say is that on every scale whether it’s in agricultural grasslands to major oil spills there must be an importance put upon conservation. The consequences of not doing so could be detrimental to the future of our earth.
Cardenas, L.M., Cuttle, S.P., Crabtree, B., Hopkins, A., Shepherd, A., Scholefield, D. & del Prado, A. (2011) Cost effectiveness of nitrate leaching mitigation measures for grassland livestock systems at locations in England and Wales. Elsevier B.V. Available from:[e-book accessed 10/02/2015]
Guardian (2010) Oil on Mexico Beaches [Digital Image] Accessed Online from:http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2010/jun/15/obama-bp-oil-spill-claims
Huffington Post. (2012). BP Oil Spill Settlement Announced, Robert Kaluza And Donald Vidrine Charged With Manslaughter. Available: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/15/bp-oil-spill_n_2136063.html. Last accessed 12/02/2015.
National Response Team. (2011). Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill.Available: http://www.uscg.mil/foia/docs/dwh/fosc_dwh_report.pdf. Last accessed 13/02/2015
Wikipedia (2010) The Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill [Digital Image] Accessed Online from:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deepwater_Horizon_oil_spill