Gulf Coast residents say BP Oil Spill changed their environmental views, research finds

April 12, 2012
A bar graph depicting Gulf Coast residents' contrasting views on oil spill, environment and energy. Credit: Lawrence Hamilton

University of New Hampshire researchers have found that residents of Louisiana and Florida most acutely and directly affected by the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster -- the largest marine oil spill in U.S. history -- said they have changed their views on other environmental issues as a result of the spill.

"If disasters teach any lessons, then experience with the Gulf spill might be expected to alter opinions about the need for environmental protection. About one-fourth of our respondents said that as a result of the spill, their views on other such as global warming or protecting wildlife had changed," said Lawrence Hamilton, professor of sociology at the University of New Hampshire.

"This proportion rose to 35 percent among those most affected economically by the spill. People reporting changed views also expressed greater concern about due to climate change, more support for a moratorium on deepwater drilling, and were more likely to favor alternative energy rather than increased ," Hamilton said.

Hamilton and his colleagues Thomas Safford, assistant professor of sociology, and Jessica Ulrich, a doctoral student in sociology, present their findings in the journal Social Science Quarterly in the article "In the Wake of the Spill: Environmental Views Along the Gulf Coast."

Lawrence Hamilton, professor of sociology at the University of New Hampshire, discusses his most recent research about environmental views of Gulf Coast residents who were most affected by the Deepwater Horizon disaster and oil spill. Credit: UNH Video Services

The research results are based on surveys of 2,023 residents of the Gulf Coast conducted in the aftermath of the explosion on the BP Deepwater Horizon in April 2010. Telephone interviews were conducted with 1,017 residents of Louisiana's Plaquemines and Terrebonne parishes and 1,006 residents of Florida's Bay, Gulf, and Franklin counties. Most of the interviews took place between the successful capping of the well in July 2010, and the completion of a final relief well in September 2010. All told, an estimated 4.4 million barrels of oil escaped from the well, some of it washing ashore on wetlands, , and beaches of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and the Florida Panhandle.

Louisiana residents more often reported that the spill had major effects on them and their families. They also saw more serious consequences from extreme weather, and greater threats from sea level rise caused by . However, they were less likely than Florida to favor a moratorium on deepwater drilling, increased use of alternative energy, or conservation of natural resources.

"The deepwater moratorium was meant to reduce the risk of further oil spills in the immediate future. Alternative energy development or conservation might have longer-term benefits, reducing the risk both of oil spills and increased flooding. Thus, we see a contrast between Louisiana residents' greater exposure to environment-related disasters and weaker support for these environmental protections," Hamilton said.

While Louisiana has welcomed oil and today benefits to the tune of roughly $65 billion a year, Florida earns a similar amount from tourism. Floridians have actively opposed offshore oil drilling, which is currently banned in state waters.

"The pattern of responses from coastal Louisiana, where many more people reported effects from the spill, extreme weather, or threats from climate-related sea-level rise—but fewer supported a deepwater moratorium, , or resource conservation—reflects socioeconomic development around oil and gas. Specialization has been channeled partly by physical characteristics of the Louisiana coastline itself," Hamilton said.

"Florida's Gulf Coast geography supported development in different directions, so today there are fewer oil-related jobs but much amenity development also at risk from spills and climate effects. From a perspective shaped by this different coastal landscape, steps that might reduce such risks while slowing oil and gas development appeared more attractive," he said.

Explore further: Louisiana, Florida residents differ on views of long-term effects of oil spill

Related Stories

Where has all the Gulf spill oil gone?

February 1, 2011

Many questions remain about the fate and environmental impact of the marine oil caused by the massive spill in the Gulf of Mexico from the Deepwater Horizon offshore drilling platform. A predictive model based on engineering ...

Recommended for you

The world needs to rethink the value of water

November 23, 2017

Research led by Oxford University highlights the accelerating pressure on measuring, monitoring and managing water locally and globally. A new four-part framework is proposed to value water for sustainable development to ...

'Lost' 99% of ocean microplastics to be identified with dye?

November 23, 2017

The smallest microplastics in our oceans – which go largely undetected and are potentially harmful – could be more effectively identified using an innovative and inexpensive new method, developed by researchers at the ...


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

1 / 5 (1) Apr 12, 2012
I'm particularly drawn the graph data. It is interesting how the state and areas hit hardest by the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, Louisiana, is still significantly AGAINST a deep water drilling moratorium, ergo pro-drilling oil. And how Florida, the state that would be hit hardest by rising seal levels, isn't as scared and worried about rising sea level near as much as other places. So, do you hear that rest of the country? Maybe, the gulf isn't ruined as you were led to believe. And maybe, just maybe, some of the things the media tells you, aren't quite the whole truth, and some things are exaggerated just to make a good story and headline.

Lesson: It's pretty bad when the people who witness and are directly affected by these situations and scenarios are not nearly as concerned as the rest of the people who aren't actually involved in any way and who only get spoon fed graphic images and one-liners.

Scientific Research: 1
Media: -1
5 / 5 (1) Apr 12, 2012
It is good to see that 30% of fools are still capable of learning.

It is quite telling that 70% of fools are incapable of learning.

Death will be their only release from a life of self imposed ignorance.
1 / 5 (1) Apr 12, 2012

That is just wishful thinking. They (the 70%) are far more likely to migrate closer to you as these events slowly unfold and engulf the globe then they are to actually stay in any singular place and simply die off.
not rated yet Apr 13, 2012
Without a doubt extremity.

It will make the 70% easier targets.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.