BP Oil Spill Data Tools

As part of our response to the ongoing BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, we’ve been analyzing environmental conditions, including air, water, sediment, and oily wastes.  Right from the beginning, we’ve followed our open government approach, which means providing the data as soon as we have it.  We’ve posted data in CSV files, a format that people could download and open in a spreadsheet.  We’ve also provided printable PDF tables and summaries on our BP spill site.

But we knew that people needed other ways to get the data, and we’ve been working on several options.  We launched Google Earth a few weeks ago, and today we launched Socrata.  I discuss each below.  And more is coming.


Our Socrata site (third-party site disclaimer) gives you several ways to explore data from the Gulf (basic instructions).  First, you can do some analysis right in your Web browser:

You can also download the data in several formats.  Beyond the CSV and PDF formats we currently provide, you can get JSON, XML and XLS.  And for the first time, you can build your own database tools using an API (application programming interface), meaning you’ll always have access to the latest data without having to download files.

You can also embed the data on your own site or blog because each dataset and each view has its own permanent URL. Just click the “Publishing” tab at the bottom of the screen to get the form, select the dimensions, and copy the code.  For example, I’ve embedded the air sampling data table below:

Powered by Socrata

If you create a free Socrata account, you can save your own analyses and link to or embed those.  Your analyses will always show the most recent data.  Other people can see what you’ve done, too.

We’ll continue to provide the data for download on our own Web site, but Socrata offers several additional opportunities.

Google Earth

Google Earth (third-party site disclaimer) lets you explore a virtual globe.  After a free download (it doesn’t run in a Web browser), you can get additional data files that map information about a wide variety of topics.  We’ve created a file you can download that includes some of our data and related information from other sources:

  • Sampling locations
  • Air monitoring locations and results for total volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and particulate matter (PM).
  • Links to EPA data, aerial photography and other information collected by our ASPECT air sampling plane, plus NASA, NOAA and the European Space Agency.
  • National Geospatial Intelligence Agency (NGA) map of boom locations and daily tracking updates of the oil spill

And we’re working to add even more data.

Here’s a screen shot:
Screen shot of Google Earth with EPA oil spill data

We need your help!

I’m excited to share these tools, but we can always improve them.  In the comments section of this post, please give us your suggestions.  Some examples:

  • Filtered views to provide beyond just what we’ve detected
  • Different ways of sorting the data
  • Mashups (ways to combine the data with other information)

And if you create your own views or download the data and produce interesting stuff, let us know!

Update on July 14: we launched another new tool so you can download data.

Jeffrey Levy is EPA’s Director of Web Communications.