Trump Administration Leads Restoration of the Gulf of Mexico 10 Years After Deepwater Horizon

On April 20, 2010, an explosion on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico cost 11 people their lives and set into motion one of the largest environmental disasters in our nation’s history. Ten years later, much has changed. Under the leadership of the Trump administration, Interior has implemented countless reforms, increased safety measures and inspections, and prioritized conservation efforts to restore beaches and natural habitats in the Gulf of Mexico


Aerial photo of the oil slick on May 7, 2010. Photo by the Environmental Protection Agency.


Interior has been making energy development on the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) safer while supporting robust production goals. The Trump Administration is working to ensure that operations are conducted safely and in an environmentally sound manner in order to meet domestic and international demand. Just last year, for the first time in our nation’s history, the United States became a net exporter of oil and gas, strengthening our position of energy independence from foreign producers. 

Two agencies’ core missions are centered on overseeing responsible energy development in public waters: Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) and the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE). 

A white man in a flight helmet looks out a helicopter window down at an oil drilling platform on the water below.
Inspecting Gulf of Mexico energy operations. Photo by Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement.

BOEM is responsible for offshore energy development and conducts environmental reviews grounded in science-based decision making. Under the Trump Administration, BOEM has improved its modeling of oil spill discharge and air quality, increased limits of liability for oil-spill damages, and developed shared standards for oil and gas operations in the unique Arctic conditions.  

BOEM also conducts comprehensive site-specific environmental assessments for all deepwater exploration plans in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act. The aim of these assessments is to better ensure that environmental risks are thoroughly analyzed, appropriate protective measures are implemented, and that environmental analyses are transparent and well-understood, both within the Federal government and by the general public and stakeholders. 


Testing drilling safety equipment. Photo by the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement.

Since its establishment in 2011, the BSEE has been the lead federal agency charged with improving safety and ensuring environmental protection related to the offshore energy industry - primarily oil and natural gas - on the OCS. BSEE oversees a robust worker safety program, emergency preparedness, environmental compliance and conservation of resources. The bureau’s work includes conducting thousands of announced and unannounced inspections, developing safer technologies, mandating that each operator establish and follow their Safety and Environmental Management System, and carrying out investigations when serious incidents do occur. 

Safety is priority number one for the Trump’s Administration’s oversight of OCS operations. From 2016 to 2019, the total number of OCS inspections have increased 46%, and the number of BSEE safety initiatives has increased 54.5%. Likewise, the percentage of production enrolled in the SafeOCS oil and gas safety program has increased nearly 29-fold since FY 2016, from 3% to 86%. These more robust safety initiatives and increased inspections are vital to making energy development in the Gulf safer, and they are already making a difference. In the past seven years, the volume of oil spilled has decreased 210 percent from one barrel spilled for every 800,000 barrels produced in 2012 to one barrel spilled for every 17.5 million produced in 2019.

A small group of men and women in work clothes and hard hats talk together while standing on the metal deck of a large drilling platform.
BSEE engineers on the job. Photo by the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement.


In the event of another large-scale incident, Interior’s bureaus and the Gulf’s operators are prepared to respond. By conducting close to a dozen studies with federal, university and industry partners, BOEM has robust analysis on the impacts of the oil spill and environmental research focusing on long-term monitoring, recovery and renewal. These studies investigate impacts of the oil and dispersants on marine resources, develop state-of-the-art tools for modeling oil spill transport, and analyze social and economic recovery from oil spill impacts. 


A USGS scientist taking samples on a beach. Photo by U.S. Geological Survey.

The U.S. Geological Survey has studied the long-term effects of the Deepwater Horizon spill on corals, coastal ecosystems and water quality, which has helped model any future spills and predict their impacts. Using science and technology to anticipate environmental risks and improving response planning ensures that resources can be deployed immediately, limiting damage to people, property and the Gulf ecosystem.

Our best defense against future incidents is a highly-qualified and well skilled workforce. Specialized Interior employees go through rigorous training and work closely with industry partners. BSEE even relocated its National Offshore Training Center to the Gulf to better align its training program with the workforce in the field.  

A crew on a large metal boat drop long sections of inflated booms on to the water.
Training on a responder vessel in Louisiana. Photo by the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement.


Restoration efforts have been underway since day one, with numerous organizations, volunteers and governments working together to reverse the impact of the spill. Interior has been a prominent member of the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Task Force, which has coordinated these efforts, in addition to  the Deepwater Horizon Natural Resources Damage Assessment Trustee Council (Trustee Council) and the RESTORE Council. These groups are composed of representatives of the five Gulf States and key Federal agencies.


Rehabilitated pelican release at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. Photo by Tami A. Heilemann, Interior.

Right after the oil spill, the U.S. Geological Survey took the lead in sampling spilled oil - both floating oil slicks and tarballs on the beaches - after the incident. The samples were used for geochemical fingerprinting and contaminant analysis. Once the Macondo well was capped, USGS scientist Paul Hsieh led a team that provided evidence the well cap was working, earning him the 2011 Federal Employee of the Year Medal. 

Satellite photo of the oil slick on the Gulf of Mexico near the coast of Mississippi.
Satellite photo of the oil slick. Photo by U.S. Geological Survey and NASA.

A legal settlement totaling billions of dollars was ultimately paid by the well and rig owners and is being used to restore the Gulf to pre-Deepwater Horizon conditions. These settlement funds are directed towards important restoration projects selected by the Trustee Council. Interior, through the Office of Gulf Restoration, serves as the Lead Administrative Trustee for the Trustee Council. The Office of Gulf Restoration also spearheads the Department’s role as a member of the RESTORE Council, which was created by Congress to manage the disbursement of Clean Water Act penalties collected by the Federal government following the Deepwater Horizon incident. Through its role as a member of both the Trustee Council and the RESTORE Council, the Department is an active and important partner with states and other federal agencies in the planning and implementation of dozens of major restoration projects in the region.  

All along the Gulf's sandy shores, you can see progress being made. In Texas, 15,000 acres have been added to Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge to provide more habitat for migrating waterfowl, sea turtles and the endangered Texas ocelot. Work will soon begin at Breton National Wildlife Refuge in Louisiana, a beach and habitat restoration project to rebuild the spit of land for migratory birds. For Interior and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, it’s the largest and most expensive project thus far funded by the Deepwater Horizon settlement money. 


Shorebirds at Breton National Wildlife Refuge. Photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

At Gulf Islands National Seashore in Florida and Mississippi, two ferries funded by recovery money now carry sightseers, beachgoers, and history buffs from nearby Pensacola to Pensacola Beach and Fort Pickens. New trails, boardwalks and beaches at many other public lands along the coast welcome more and more visitors, bringing needed tourism back. People are already enjoying a lovely boardwalk built by the Bureau of Land Management to the beaches on Fort Morgan Peninsula in Alabama. Speaking of beaches, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has leased more than 60 million cubic yards of offshore sand for coastal restoration projects, returning the Gulf Coast to its former glory while making it more resilient to storms and erosion. 

A large white boat travels across the water towards an old fort on the beach.
The ferry at Gulf Islands National Seashore. Photo by National Park Service.

Connecting people to the wonders of the Gulf and providing recreational experiences is another priority. These restoration efforts have replenished beaches and recreation has been rejuvenated benefiting local communities. Additional, planned recreation projects will further develop the public’s appetite for hunting, fishing, swimming, boating and hiking. All made possible from an all of the above restoration approach.


The boardwalks at Fort Morgan have informational signs to enhance the visitors' experience. Photo by Bureau of Land Management.

As we observe and reflect on how far we have come since the Deepwater Horizon disaster, especially under the Trump Administration, we can never forget to remember the lives lost. Those who lost their lives, were people who worked to provide domestic energy to power our homes, our cars, and our businesses, our manufacturing plants, and so many other aspects of our economy that have helped improve our quality of life in comparison to previous generations. They will not be forgotten, and we will continue to do our part to try and ensure history doesn’t repeat and that our waters, wildlife and environment stay clean.  

We still have more to do and will continue to carry out our missions for the American people.


For more images detailing Interior's work in the Gulf, go to our Flickr album and watch the video below.