Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill

Client: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

Location: Gulf of Mexico

On April 20, 2010, an explosion occurred on the Deepwater Horizon (DWH) oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico, leading to oil releasing from the ruptured well for 87 days. As the resultant natural resource damage assessment (NRDA) progressed into 2011, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the lead federal trustee, recognized an immediate need for increased environmental data management support. Specifically, NOAA sought assistance with identifying and reconciling conflicts between different sources of field sample data, and ensuring consistency throughout the environmental data management system (EDMS).

MFA quickly became familiar with the EDMS in use (including NOAA’s Query Manager and custom MS Access and SQL Server databases), and began designing and performing data integrity checks to identify gaps and inconsistencies in field sample data. Since 2011, MFA has remained a key member of the project team because of its unique ability to rapidly adapt to changing requirements and needs and to develop and execute innovative processes to integrate large data sets from multiple sources while ensuring the highest standards of data quality.

MFA’s involvement in the DWH NRDA for NOAA has led to a substantial increase in the completeness and accuracy of field and analytical sample data available to trustees, the responsible party, and the public. In addition to enhanced data quality, the support provided by MFA has helped expedite the release of these data for analysis as the NRDA progresses.

The biggest challenge for MFA has been diving into a project of rapidly evolving and growing scope. Throughout MFA’s involvement, its role has expanded from management of field sample data to include management of analytical results as well. Careful coordination has been required to ensure MFA’s proper understanding of its roles and responsibilities as one of multiple data management contractors, all working from different regions of the country.

Successfully meeting this challenge has required detailed and adaptive project management, including regular interaction with the client, as well as internal staff coordination and workload leveling. Additionally, because of the diverse scientific and analytical backgrounds of MFA’s data management staff, MFA has been able to quickly respond to needs for varying expertise.

Project Outcomes: 

  • Assured increased field and analytical sample data quality
  • Developed innovative data integrity checks that flag inconsistent data, allowing for focused data quality reviews
  • Employed advanced GIS analysis to resolve spatial data issues
  • Performed accurate merging of field and analytical sample data for a variety of deliverables
  • Facilitated timely sharing of sample data by the trustees with the responsible party and public
  • Provided outreach to trustee scientists about data caveats and methods for access
  • Generated detailed documentation of data processing
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