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New Sea Grant publication explains where scientists believe Deepwater Horizon oil ended up

The Deepwater Horizon oil spill released around 172 million gallons of crude oil into the Gulf in 2010. In the following months, responders used every tool at their disposal to remove what they could from the environment. Simultaneously, scientists worked to track the path of what remained. The Sea Grant Oil Spill Science Outreach Program’s latest publication Deepwater Horizon: Where did the oil go? summarizes what researchers have discovered about where the spilled oil traveled after it escaped from the Macondo well and what processes carried it along its path.

The publication highlights some of the ways in which responders successfully removed a portion of the oil, including skimming and burning it at the surface. Oil also leaves the marine environment naturally, by evaporating into the air or breaking into smaller and smaller droplets in the water through a process called dispersion. Responders made the decision to hasten this process by using chemical dispersants at the wellhead and on the surface slick away from shore, causing the oil to break down and move out into the water. Because oil enters the Gulf regularly through natural seeps, tiny creatures called microbes have adapted to consume it as part of their regular diet. Studies show that these microbes ate a portion of the dispersed oil.

Finding the oil that remained in the Gulf was a difficult task. Deepwater Horizon: Where did the oil go? discusses the usual and unusual places scientists located oil—on marshes and beaches at the shoreline, in a many-miles-long underwater plume, and even on the Gulf floor—and how they think it got there. And with all that scientists have discovered concerning the fate of the oil, still 11 to 25 percent of it remains unaccounted for.

To learn more, go to gulfseagrant.org/oilspilloutreach/publications/ and read Deepwater Horizon: Where did the oil go? It’s one of the team’s many publications about oil spill science, all filled with peer-reviewed research written in everyday language.


The Sea Grant Oil Spill Science Outreach Program is a joint project of the four Gulf of Mexico Sea Grant College Programs, with funding from partner Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative. The team’s mission is to collect and translate the latest peer-reviewed research for those who rely on a healthy Gulf for work or recreation. To learn more about the team’s products and presentations, visit gulfseagrant.org/oilspillscience.