The Blog Aquatic » Bethany Kraft News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Fri, 24 Oct 2014 11:00:53 +0000 en-US hourly 1 BP Trial Phase 2: What You Need to Know Mon, 30 Sep 2013 11:00:15 +0000 Bethany Kraft oil-smeared hand

Photo: Ken Cedeno / Ocean Conservancy

The second phase of the trial to determine how much more money BP owes for its Gulf spill begins today. Here’s what you need to know:

1. Phase two of the trial will cover how much oil BP actually discharged into the Gulf of Mexico as well as the effort to cap the well. (Remember the summer of “junk shots” and “top kills?”)

BP says the U.S. government’s estimate of 4.9 million barrels of oil is based on “faulty assumptions.” BP says they spilled ONLY about 2.45 million barrels. BP’s estimate of a lower volume is based on the work of London-based professor Martin Blunt, who *ahem* used to work for BP. Either way, that’s a lot of oil, so why the fuss? Penalties for discharging oil (a violation of the Clean Water Act) are based on the amount of oil discharged. A lower volume means a lower penalty—potentially around $7 billion less.

(Click here for an overview of all phases of the trial.)

2. BP agreed to a criminal settlement last fall that requires the company to pay approximately $4 billion in fines over a five-year period. One of the guilty pleas was for obstruction of Congress. In May 2010, BP officials told Congress that the company’s best estimate of the spill flow was about 5,000 barrels per day, even though BP’s own scientists said in company communications that it was likely much higher.

To put the penalty BP paid for all of their criminal counts in perspective, their profits for the fourth quarter of 2012 were $3.984 billion, down from $4.986 billion the year prior.

3. BP has launched a PR campaign designed to shore up the company’s assertion that they have “made it right” and to point fingers at Gulf residents, saying that many of the claims made as a result of losses incurred during the disaster are fraudulent and that the company has gone above and beyond in response and restoration. They took out full-page ads in several national newspapers asserting that they are being victimized.

The campaign moved into full swing during the month before phase two of the trial. According to The Hill, “Given that much of the advertising is in Washington, it may also be aimed at garnering political support to lessen pending Clean Water Act fines that are the subject of the ongoing federal trial.”

Tar ball in the Gulf of Mexico

Photo courtesy Gulf Restoration Network

4. Despite ads to the contrary, there is still oil lurking in the Gulf of Mexico and on our coast. We are just now starting to see science on the impact of the spill in the marine environment, like this study of its effect on sediment in the Gulf. Organizations like the Gulf Restoration Network regularly find oiled shorelines on their patrols, like this picture taken in April of 2013 at Elmer’s Island, La.

Ultimately, the amount of money available for restoration of the Gulf of Mexico via the RESTORE Act comes down to two things: How much oil did BP discharge, and were they grossly negligent in the actions leading up to and during the disaster? Let the facts, not a slick PR campaign, determine the fate of the Gulf of Mexico.

As the next phase of this critical trial begins, please do your part to #makeBPpay. Let the world know that the Gulf of Mexico deserves full restoration and recovery by sharing the following:

Make BP Pay!
As BP enters their second phase of trial, I stand with Ocean Conservancy for restoration done right. Let’s let the facts determine the fate of the Gulf, not their slick PR campaign.

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We must #makeBPpay! Let facts decide the fate of the Gulf & @OurOcean, not @BP_America’s slick PR. #BPtrial
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No Truth in Advertising: BP Avoiding Gulf Restoration Thu, 22 Aug 2013 18:47:24 +0000 Bethany Kraft Boom and pelicans in the Gulf of Mexico

Photo © Cheryl Gerber / Ocean Conservancy

Have you seen the BP commercials about the company taking responsibility for the worst oil disaster in U.S. history? I for one usually see at least one every week. That’s because for the past three years, the company has spent hundreds of millions on advertising trying to clean up their image. But unfortunately, BP hasn’t been as diligent about spending money to actually clean up the impacts of the Deepwater Horizon disaster they claim to be taking responsibility for.

Even as their advertisements continue to run on air, BP is now fighting its own settlement and refusing to provide much-needed funding to the people impacted by the disaster and to restoration efforts critical to bring back the health of Gulf ecosystems and marine life.

Why? Because BP claims that the people who lost their jobs and their way of life are trying to scam the company. This despite the fact that while BP makes about $4 billion in profit every three months, many people who lost their livelihoods have waited more than three years to receive compensation for their losses.

Instead of taking responsibility for the oil disaster in the Gulf and all of the repercussions to the people and wildlife who call the Gulf region home, BP is going out of its way to shirk responsibility for paying economic claims they already agreed to in court.

Now BP is taking a step even further by suing the U.S. government, claiming that being barred from pursuing new federal contracts (keep in mind that this was part of the punishment the company received for the oil disaster in the first place) is potentially costing them billions of dollars.

Despite BP’s completely astonishing legal maneuvers recently, there is progress being made. This week the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council released its Comprehensive Restoration Plan. Ocean Conservancy (and about a thousand of our supporters—thank you!) provided comments on what the plan should include to ensure that restoration is truly comprehensive. Read more about our recommendations here.

RESTORE Act funding is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do something great for the Gulf. The task before the council is to use the plan as a blueprint to guide the development of a science-based process to ensure that projects ultimately selected for funding will contribute to a vision for comprehensive restoration of the Gulf ecosystem from coastal areas to the marine environment.

But a plan is only as good as the funds to implement it. As the news reports regarding BP continue to come out—detailing their court battles over settlement payments to oil spill estimate—one thing is for sure: We need to ensure the communities and livelihoods that were damaged by this disaster get the resources they need to recover. Restoring the Gulf to health after decades of degradation, including, most recently, the BP oil disaster, will ensure that we enjoy these benefits for many years to come.

We look forward to the council meeting next week and sharing our insight with members regarding what is now needed to get the plan to a place where it can be funded and implemented.

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Next Steps in Gulf Recovery: Restoring Region’s Health and Livelihoods Fri, 26 Jul 2013 14:25:39 +0000 Bethany Kraft shrimp boat

Credit: Bethany Kraft / Ocean Conservancy

With yesterday’s news that Halliburton intentionally destroyed evidence related to the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, we are seeing that the truth about that disaster is still coming out. The company’s callousness at least has one bright side—it will provide more resources to an important restoration organization. But this isn’t enough.

The people of the Gulf are still suffering from this tragedy.

Three years ago, I found myself at a late-night community meeting on the coast in Alabama to discuss the oil disaster. At that point, oil was still spewing uncontrolled from the wellhead and huge portions of the Gulf were closed to fishing—meaning that thousands of people were out of a job and countless more were unable to enjoy doing the things they’d always taken for granted, like fishing, boating and swimming in the Gulf.

About an hour in, a broad-shouldered, weathered man stood up to discuss what this disaster meant for him. He explained that he made his living as a fisherman and now couldn’t afford to feed his family. As he talked, his voice began to break, and he struggled to keep talking through the tears. It was then that I knew this disaster was deeper than the sheen on the water; it was in the hearts of each Gulf resident.

I think about him often. I think about how we all felt during that awful summer. I remember how unsure we were that life would ever be the same.

I know it’s easy to forget how fearful we were when the oil was gushing. But the truth is we were and still are feeling the impacts of that summer. Luckily, there is a process called the Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA). The purpose of the assessment is to compensate the people of the Gulf for the impacts to our natural resources and our lost use and enjoyment of those resources.

Funding to restore the Gulf of Mexico should fully compensate the public for their losses and include the marine environment where the spill happened in the first place. Unfortunately, the money available for this process could be used for projects that don’t help fix the damage done.

We need the NRDA Trustees to spend Gulf restoration funds on bringing back the health and livelihoods of the Gulf region.

NRDA funds are intended to support projects like:

  • Restoring fisheries
  • Restoring oyster reefs
  • Constructing living shorelines
  • Restoring dunes damaged in the BP response effort
  • Enhancing nesting areas for seabirds and turtles
  • Restoring sea grass beds

Right now, we have the opportunity to make sure the trustees listen to the people of the Gulf. They need to understand we won’t stand by and watch funding get misused on projects that don’t work to restore the natural resources we rely on every day.

Ocean Conservancy’s goal is to send 1,000 public comments from Gulf state residents to the trustees before the comment period ends on Aug. 2. If you live in the Gulf or know someone who does, please share this message and help ensure that funding to restore the Gulf is used for its intended purposes for years to come.

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Ocean Conservancy’s Recipe for Gulf Restoration Wed, 29 May 2013 20:00:41 +0000 Bethany Kraft

credit — NOAA

Restoring the environment is a lot like planning what to cook. A coral reef restoration project and a pie both have a recipe for success. Using a good plan, or recipe, helps to create a product we can’t possibly pull off by ourselves. My latest culinary triumph, a delicious (if I do say so myself) chocolate silk pie made from a recipe featured in a cooking magazine, looked tantalizing, but frighteningly labor intensive. Because it had a lot of detailed steps, I was nervous about making a mistake and ruining some pretty expensive ingredients, but in the end I took the plunge. Unfortunately, the RESTORE Act Council has not taken the plunge into creating a detailed recipe for restoration of the Gulf of Mexico. It is still missing some important ingredients.

Developing a comprehensive restoration plan for the Gulf of Mexico is not unlike baking a chocolate silk pie. It’s complicated. There are a lot of steps, the ingredients and the sequence you incorporate them matters, and the preparation is just as important as the baking itself. I couldn’t just go to the Piggly Wiggly and throw stuff in the cart. Leaving out key ingredients is the surest way to sorrow. You avoid disaster by having a detailed plan. If you pay attention to the recipe and ensure that you have everything you need on hand, you can tackle pretty much anything and be reasonably confident of an edible outcome.

But even with a great recipe, things only got more complicated when I tied on my apron and started cooking. I invariably found a step that I missed, and was forced to adapt on the fly, which was why I ended up melting chocolate on the stove with one hand and beating a heated egg concoction with the other. In the meantime, my freshly whipped cream melted on the counter. Even the best laid plans go awry, but adaptation is key. (Stay with me, I’ve almost exhausted this particular metaphor.)

Last week, the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council released their Draft Initial Comprehensive Plan. The ingredients to cook up comprehensive restoration are in the plan, but the actual steps to achieve the goals and priorities of the plan are lacking in many areas. We need specific details about how we are going to restore the resources we rely on for our food, fun and livelihoods. RESTORE Act funding is a once in a lifetime opportunity to do something great for the Gulf. We have one Gulf and one chance to make sure our restoration recipe is the best it can possibly be.

Ocean Conservancy’s recipe for comprehensive restoration calls for:
1 Part Science
1 Part Public Engagement
1 Part Clear Criteria for Decision-making

Science and adaptive management are the core ingredients of a successful restoration program. The Council must use the best science on the shelf to help guide their decisions. While some of the science needed already exists and just needs to be put into the cart, some of it will need to be created from scratch and the Council should make sure the resources to create it are available.

The Council also needs a Head Chef, or a Chief Scientist. This senior-level position can advise the Council and provide guidance and feedback on restoration as a whole and for individual projects. And the final decision on what goes into the recipe for restoration should be guided by a clear set of criteria.

Although there can sometimes be too many cooks in the kitchen, it is important to learn from those who have spent lots of hours in the kitchen. This is why it is so important to infuse meaningful public engagement throughout the process. Advanced notice of meetings open to the public, opportunities for public comment on draft strategies, plans and projects is essential.

Finally, folding in a comprehensive approach to restoration will make sure all of our hard work results in a dish we can all be proud of. The final plan must be an integrated, regional approach and contain specific objectives. Detailed information on how progress will be monitored must be clear as well. Sound objectives and clear ways to measure effectiveness of projects are essential to making sure the plan addresses restoration of both coastal and marine ecosystems, as well as coastal communities.

For more details on our initial recommendations, click here.

Oh, and if you want that chocolate silk pie recipe, you can find it here.

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Public Engagement Missing from Early Restoration in the Gulf Fri, 03 May 2013 20:04:25 +0000 Bethany Kraft

Bayou La Batre, Alabama

This week, over $600 million in early restoration projects were announced by states in the Gulf of Mexico.   This is BP money that is specifically to be used to address the damage caused by the oil disaster.  Some of the projects announced this week, like the oyster reef restoration project in Alabama, and many projects in Louisiana, are likely to be supported by the public and to be appropriate uses of Natural Resources Damage Assessment (NRDA) funding. Unfortunately, the public can’t make that determination without access to more information.

We are disappointed to see these projects announced without the inclusion of any sort of environmental or overarching analysis to provide transparency or opportunities for public involvement, not to mention provide the legal basis and policy guidance for addressing the injury caused by the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster.

The NRDA Trustees do not dispute their legal duties under both the Oil Pollution Act (OPA) and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) to produce a Restoration Plan and Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS), which would accomplish this. Indeed, it has been two years since they announced that a draft Plan and PEIS would be produced by early 2012. Yet we continue to see an assortment of projects announced without these guiding documents, effectively limiting citizens from full participation in the restoration process as required by law and providing little confidence that these projects in aggregate will make the public whole.

This effort is about restoring the Gulf following the largest oil spill in U.S. history. And giving the public certainty that the government is getting this right is not just a good thing to do, it’s what the law requires.

Before any of the recently announced new projects receive final approval, the public needs additional information about the nature, scope, and the geographic extent of the injury, as well as a Restoration Plan. This is what the law promises, and the Trustees must deliver.

Early restoration projects implemented without the guidance of a PEIS and Restoration Plan undermine the Trustees’ own goal of developing a holistic, ecosystem-based restoration plan because they do not include a full range of alternatives, nor do they provide a level of analysis that gives the public a sense of why some projects were chosen over other options.

Despite the murkiness of how project decisions are made as part of early restoration, one thing is clear: the public stands to lose big in the long run if the Trustees refuse to engage them as a meaningful part of decision-making.

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Update: Three Years After BP–Charting the Course to Recovery Sat, 20 Apr 2013 11:00:38 +0000 Bethany Kraft

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.

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BP Trial Must Send Message About Risks and Responsibility Mon, 04 Mar 2013 22:40:26 +0000 Bethany Kraft

As we begin week two of BP’s trial in New Orleans, I can’t help but think back to the earliest days of the spill when oil spewed uncontrolled from the depths of the ocean and snaked its way toward shore.

I was at Incident Command in Mobile, Ala., when people were just starting to realize how serious that spill was going to be. The command center housed hundreds of people, from local elected officials to Coast Guard officers to the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. And of course, BP was there en masse.

It was a surreal experience, but one of my most vivid memories of that time was the look on the faces of the BP employees. It was a cross between disbelief and sheer panic. Looking into their eyes, you could tell that they literally had not thought this type of disaster could ever occur. They were really scared.

But by the end of the summer, those looks were gone. They were replaced by perfect sound bites, slick slogans and promises to “make it right.” And when the well was capped after 87 days, the story faded in most of the country, replaced by commercials about the Gulf being better than ever.

In the past three years, BP has spent inordinate amounts of time and money shirking responsibility, pointing fingers at others and downplaying the seriousness of the disaster. Now is the time for BP to be held responsible.

I’ve been waiting nearly three years for this trial. And I thought I would feel some sense of satisfaction when it finally started, but I don’t. I just can’t take pleasure in the public flogging of a company, even though BP deserves every minute of it.

Although I believe that BP must be held accountable to the full extent of the law and that they will and should be found grossly negligent, I also remember that they never meant for this to happen. BP thought that the lucrative payoff of drilling in deep water was worth the risk.

That’s why this trial must send a message about the seriousness of the risks involved when you drill in our waters.

If BP had taken these risks seriously, they never would have done things like list the Arctic-dwelling walrus as a species of concern in their planning and response documents or included the names of dead people as their response experts in the Gulf. Their arrogance and disregard for the people and natural resources of the Gulf led to this disaster.

A lot of people are asking how much BP owes the Gulf, as if there is some magical dollar amount that will make the last three years less painful or the next 20 somehow perfect.

I can’t answer that question. I don’t believe in bleeding BP for the sake of revenge, and I know that no amount of money is going to restore the Gulf without the collective commitment of the citizens, elected officials and community leaders of the region and the entire country to use the money wisely to restore the resources we rely on for our economy and our way of life.

That being said, there still must be a reckoning. Whatever the final payout ends up being, it needs to hurt the company bad enough to be a warning to everyone who wants to drill in our waters that the risks are real and serious.

The Department of Justice must send a message that when you make a mistake, you must take responsibility—even when you never meant for it to happen. We all have to learn that lesson as individuals, and we should expect nothing less from our corporations.

BP has vast resources, with profits in the billions every quarter. The fine BP ultimately pays must reflect not only the seriousness of their transgressions, it must hurt them enough to serve as a lesson to all those who drill in our waters.

For more on the BP trial as it’s happening, follow reporter Mark Schleifstein and Alabama Media Group reporter George Talbot on Twitter.

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