Three years ago, on April 20, the lives of 11 men were cut short as a rig most of us had never heard of exploded, creating a fiery hell on the surface of the ocean and wreaking 87 days of havoc beneath the surface as oil spewed uncontrolled into the depths of the Gulf of Mexico.
That spring and summer, as families of the 11 men mourned and the world watched live feeds of the wellhead blowing millions of barrels of oil into the waters we rely on for our food and our livelihoods. We saw images of oiled pelicans and birds washed up on shore. We saw vast amounts of a dispersant known as Corexit sprayed on the surface and at depth to make the oil “disappear” and, ostensibly, prevent a greater disaster on shore. We flew over blue-green water marked with long streaks of orange-colored dispersed oil and watched dolphins weave in an out of those toxic ribbons.
As we look forward to opportunities that arise for restoration and recovery from this tragedy, we must not forget the size of this disaster. We have one Gulf and one chance to do this right. This opportunity for restoration comes at a dear price and it is up to all of us to honor the lives lost by restoring the resources that make life on the Gulf possible.
So where are we three years on? There has been some progress in the last three years that we should recognize and celebrate, but there is still a lot of work to do.
Since the onset of the spill, Ocean Conservancy has led the charge for a comprehensive approach to restoration. For us, that means restoration of our coastal communities as well as coastal and marine environments. Three years on, the discussion about coastal restoration and economic recovery has grown more robust, with excellent project ideas (and some not so great ideas) being discussed. And organizations like Oxfam America are doing incredible work to ensure that those most affected by the oil disaster have a place in a new restoration economy.
What is troubling is that marine restoration is still not on the radar for many people. Given the location of the blowout (in the deep water) and the unknown long-term impacts on deepwater corals, marine mammals, sea turtles and fish, not to mention the fact that there is still an unknown quantity of oil lurking beneath the surface, it makes sense for marine restoration to be at the center of conversations about recovery.
There are myriad options for marine restoration out there, and in the coming months we will be sharing specific projects that Ocean Conservancy believes will have a positive impact on the Gulf of Mexico and the people and wildlife that rely on it. Without a healthy Gulf, we won’t have a healthy coast or healthy communities.
An unprecedented bipartisan effort on the part of the Gulf delegation, and two years of coordination and hard work on the part of a diverse coalition of non-profits, local governments and businesses, led the charge to get the RESTORE Act passed in July of 2012. The Act created a trust fund that will send 80% of any civil and administrative Clean Water Act penalties related to the oil disaster to the Gulf Coast for restoration. The money is allocated to various “pots” of money, some of which can be used for both economic and environmental recovery, and some of which is dedicated solely to ecosystem recovery, guided by a comprehensive restoration plan.
The RESTORE Act will potentially send billions of dollars to the Gulf for restoration, but, unfortunately, even before the money has arrived, we are seeing bills proposed to divert the money to state general funds, and plans to widen roads or other projects that are not in keeping with the spirit of the Act, and that won’t do much, if anything, to create a lasting legacy for the Gulf’s citizens.
Natural Resource Damage Assessment
BP committed a billion dollars to early restoration as part of their legal obligation to mitigate the impacts of the oil spill on the region’s natural resources. This early restoration framework was created to expedite the Natural Resource Damage Assessment, a legal process that can take years or even decades to resolve, but thus far we’ve only seen ten projects approved for funding. More importantly, there is no indication that the restoration plans that should guide this process and provide the public a way to participate in recovery are going to be ready anytime soon. We have to insist that restoration is approached comprehensively, and we need a plan to make that happen.
Studies continue to point to trouble for the people, wildlife and the places they live. We must insist that BP be held accountable for fully compensating the public for the damages to our impacted resources.
Miles of Restoration
Even as the BP trial drags on, and restoration plans remain in the earliest stages, some groups are taking restoration in their own hands and doing incredible work across the Gulf.
Led by the Alabama Coastal Foundation, Mobile Baykeeper, The Nature Conservancy and The Ocean Foundation, a large partnership continues to move closer to its goal of building 100 miles of oyster reef and living shoreline as part of the 100-1000: Restore Coastal Alabama Partnership. Funded by various grants, this group isn’t waiting for BP to get its act together. They are working together to protect and improve habitats in Alabama.
Regardless of whether you’ve been following the events of the last three years faithfully, we all must remember what is at stake. And whether you live in Coden, Alabama or Kenosha, Wisconsin, the choices we make in the wake of April 20, 2010 affect you. As we mark the third memorial of the BP oil disaster, what are your thoughts on how we move forward with recovery?
For more information about our work in the Gulf and to learn how you can get involved, click here.