News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy
About Bethany Kraft
Bethany is the Director of the Gulf Restoration Program, living and working in New Orleans, Louisiana. Bethany’s love for the ocean began as a child, and playing in the ocean still makes her feel as giddy, excited, and grateful as it did when she was little. She shares the same sentiment about all things banana-flavored.
Five years ago today, oil from the Deepwater Horizon rig was still gushing unabated into the Gulf of Mexico, impacting countless wildlife, oiling shorelines and devastating coastal communities from Texas to Florida. Shortly after the disaster occurred, both President Obama and BP promised to restore the Gulf of Mexico, and today marks the single biggest step forward in restoring the Gulf.
Today BP and the five Gulf states have agreed to an unprecedented $18.7 billion settlement to resolve the outstanding fines that BP still owes for damaging the Gulf. While details are still emerging, here are some of the highlights:
$5.5 billion to resolve Clean Water Act civil penalties, with some portion of that money being directed to each of the five Gulf states. This includes approximately $1.3 billion that will go to the RESTORE Council to implement comprehensive restoration from Texas to Florida, from the coast to the blue water. Read more about the RESTORE Act and restoration here.
$8.1 billion (including $1 billion down payment BP already provided for early restoration) to resolve natural resource damages that are directly related to the impacts of the oil disaster. We are particularly pleased to see that this allocation includes $1.24 billion for projects in the open ocean! This means that we will be able to restore impacts beyond the shore, where the disaster began and where we continue to learn about troubling impacts to fish, corals and dolphins.
$350 million to continue assessing the damage caused by the disaster.
Finally, $5 billion will go to the Gulf states to resolve economic claims.
Five years ago, I didn’t know much about oil spills. I worked for an environmental nonprofit in coastal Alabama, where I could literally see natural gas rigs pumping in the distance when I stood on the beach. But I didn’t think much about what a big spill could mean for my community until the worst-case scenario showed up on my doorstep.
Now, on the eve of the five-year memorial of the BP Deepwater Horizon explosion that took the lives of 11 men and led to the largest environmental disaster in U.S. history, I know a great deal more about oil spills and the toll they can take on communities.
Here are the five most important lessons I’ve learned in the last five years.
Ocean Conservancy prides itself on contributing to thoughtful, science-based restoration approaches in the Gulf as we work toward returning the region to its rightful place as a natural treasure and economic engine for the entire country.
But, everyone’s patience gets tested from time to time. After seeing the latest “report” from BP, we’ve had enough of reacting thoughtfully to BP’s continued PR efforts to discredit the scientists and environmental groups working to restore the Gulf and honor the lives and livelihoods lost in this disaster. Below, we have provided a spin-free translation of the introductory letter to BP’s latest effort to convince you that they are the victims of the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster.
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.)
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.
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.
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.