The 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil release posed the challenges of two types of spill: a familiar spill characterized by buoyant oil, fouling and killing organisms at the sea surface and eventually grounding on and damaging sensitive shoreline habitats, and a novel deepwater spill involving many unknowns. The subsurface retention of oil as finely dispersed droplets and emulsions, wellhead injection of dispersants, and deepwater retention of plumes of natural gas undergoing rapid microbial degradation were unprecedented and demanded the development of a new model for deepwater well blowouts that includes subsurface consequences. Existing governmental programs and policies had not anticipated this new theater of impacts, which thereby challenged decisionmaking on the spill response, on the assessment of natural resource damages, on the preparation for litigation to achieve compensation for public trust losses, and on restoration. Modification of laws and policies designed to protect and restore ocean resources is needed in order to accommodate oil drilling in the deep sea and other frontiers.
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Vol. 62 • No. 5