ST. PETERSBURG — When the companies responsible for the Deepwater Horizon disaster pay fines for polluting the Gulf of Mexico, Florida scientists will get millions of dollars to study the continuing impact of the oil spill, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson said Thursday.
The Deepwater Horizon rig exploded April 20, 2010, killing 11 crew members and leading to nearly 5 million barrels of oil spilling in the gulf, some of which washed ashore from Louisiana to Florida.
Although BP was at last able to cap the deep well in July 2010, oil is still washing ashore in some parts of Louisiana.
Scientists have connected the spill to a variety of consequences, including lesions on fish caught in the gulf and the deaths of dolphins that were stranded on beaches.
Nelson, standing Thursday in the hot sun near the stern of a Florida Institute of Oceanography research ship, said estimates of the potential fines run from $5 billion to $20 billion. Under the provisions of a bill just passed by Congress, 80 percent is to be returned to the five gulf states that had to deal with the spill.
The legislation states that 2.5 percent of the fine would go to scientists in each of the states for research, Nelson said.
Here, those funds would go to the Florida Institute of Oceanography, a consortium of 11 universities that's based at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg, overseen by William Hogarth.
"I think it's sort of a miracle that this has happened," he said.
The oil spill legislation is part of a massive highway bill that passed Congress last week.
Nelson said President Obama would sign it into law today, but could not say how soon the money would be available.
Hogarth said the science consortium is just now beginning to list the projects that could be funded. Possibilities include real-time assessment of fishing stocks, he said.
Craig Pittman can be reached at email@example.com