The Blog Aquatic » BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster http://blog.oceanconservancy.org News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Mon, 26 Jan 2015 16:12:50 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.4.2 BP: Return on Investment Includes Cost of Business http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/01/26/bp-return-on-investment-includes-cost-of-business/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/01/26/bp-return-on-investment-includes-cost-of-business/#comments Mon, 26 Jan 2015 14:45:21 +0000 Matt Love http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=9731

Every day we monitor the health of our economy through indicators such as the Dow Jones Industrial Average, NASDAQ or S&P 500. We are able to understand the trends in our economy through the long-term values of these indicators. Decisions are made each day based on these trends and affect every aspect of our lives. Very few business leaders would dare conduct business without analyzing these indices.

The ocean is an important driver of our economy and a major player in our ability to thrive. It provides the oxygen we breathe. It controls the weather systems that produce our food and the marine systems that sustain much of the biological wealth of this planet. The health of the ocean is immensely important, yet we conduct business every day without knowing the changes or trends in the ocean’s health.

As the BP trial presses on this week, BP and other responsible parties should be on the hook for ensuring that the Gulf of Mexico recovers from the Deepwater Horizon disaster. The Gulf—like the global ocean—is critical to our economy. In order to track recovery, the resolution of this case should fund an monitoring system that tracks the health of the Gulf for at least 25 years.

When a disaster occurs like the financial crisis of 2008, we can understand its severity by looking at stock indices. When a disaster occurs in the ocean, like the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, we struggle to comprehend its severity, because we have no reliable indicators to recognize trends. Sadly, there are very few sustained, long-term monitoring programs  to track the health of our oceans.

Only by having a long-term, comprehensive monitoring system in place will we know if we are achieving desired goals. By tracking progress, we will be able to understand how restoration is performing, which allows for course corrections, and thereby reduces the risk of failed approaches. Any settlement intended to resolve BP’s penalty for harming the Gulf must recognize the requirement to monitor restoration in the context of the ecosystem.

Ocean Conservancy is working with scientists around the Gulf Coast, including members of the Gulf of Mexico Alliance, the  Gulf Coastal Ocean Observing System and the National Academy of Science’s Gulf Research Program, to map out the current landscape of long-term monitoring programs that could serve as components to this comprehensive system. The goal is to help identify existing programs that maintain a long-term data record of resources that were ultimately injured by the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster. By incorporating existing programs, the cost and effort of monitoring the entire Gulf is much less daunting.

For a successful resolution of the BP trial, it’s critically important that funding is made available for this long-term monitoring.

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BP Back in Court http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/01/20/bp-back-in-court/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2015/01/20/bp-back-in-court/#comments Tue, 20 Jan 2015 13:00:22 +0000 Ivy Fredrickson http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=9713

BP once again must appear in court today as the final phase of the BP trial begins in New Orleans. This is the third phase of a multiyear trial to determine how much BP and other responsible parties should pay for their role in the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. Just last Thursday, the Judge issued another ruling, finding that 3.19 million barrels of oil were released into the Gulf. This means that the maximum fine BP will face is $13.7 billion. This final phase of the trial will focus on eight factors, as required by the Clean Water Act, including BP’s history of prior violations and the seriousness of this violation.

A key factor in court will be BP’s efforts to minimize the harm. In other words, did BP do enough in responding to the disaster to justify lowering their fine? Yes, BP took efforts to stop the flow from the well and the spread of oil, but BP also lied about the rate at which oil was spewing from the well.

The economic impact of the penalty on BP will be interesting to watch as well. The court will need to determine whether this inquiry focuses on BP (the parent company) as a whole or only on its subsidiary, BP Exploration & Production, known as BPXP. BP is expected to argue that the recent dip in oil prices should be factored into this inquiry. (This assertion, as you might expect, has been met with criticism.)

A third factor will be the issue of simple vs. gross negligence. That question was answered back in September when the court ruled that the oil disaster was the result of BP’s “gross negligence” and “willful misconduct,” Though this sounds like legalese, this ruling is extremely important; it means more funding will be available for restoring the Gulf. Funding for restoration projects via the RESTORE Act comes from Clean Water Act fines. And the finding of “gross negligence,” rather than ordinary negligence, means that fines can be as high as $4,300 per barrel of oil spilled, instead of $1,100. Eighty percent of the Clean Water Act fines will be used to repair and restore the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem and the communities and economies that depend on it.

These penalty factors will be hotly debated during the trial starting today, and arguments will help determine whether the judge leans toward the high end of $13.7 billion or the low end of $7 billion. We can expect BP to argue for sympathy and leniency (i.e., “we’ve been punished enough; we’ve learned our lesson.”) BP will likely call attention to the money it spent on cleanup and capping the well back in 2010 (which was required by law). The courtroom action will last two or three weeks, and then the parties will file briefs with the court until late April. But there is no established timeline for when the judge will issue a ruling. And, of course, there is always the possibility that the parties could agree on a settlement.

Regardless of how this trial ends, a successful resolution must include funding to monitor the Gulf ecosystem over the course of 25 years, restoration that includes the offshore environment where the oil disaster began, and a transparent decision-making process that allows the public to participate in a meaningful way.

Many questions still loom, but we know a few things for certain. We know the people of the Gulf Coast and the coastal and marine ecosystems of the Gulf will feel the effects of the BP oil disaster for years to come. But from this disaster comes an opportunity to restore and chart a new path for the Gulf. Restoration is already underway, and this final phase of the trial gets us one step closer to justice and a healthier future for the Gulf.

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Time to Get to Work on Restoration http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/12/04/time-to-get-to-work-on-restoration/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/12/04/time-to-get-to-work-on-restoration/#comments Thu, 04 Dec 2014 19:24:29 +0000 Libby Fetherston http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=9575

Photo: Rob Peterson

There’s a right way and a wrong way to spend millions of dollars restoring the Gulf of Mexico. The Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council, a federal and state entity responsible for spending a portion of the RESTORE Act dollars, is doing it right by releasing all of the candidate projects to the public far before any decisions are made.

A total of 50 project proposals for comprehensively restoring the Gulf in the wake of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster were made publically available this week, and the line-up includes some great concepts for restoring watersheds, deep-water corals, acquiring new lands for conservation and promoting living shoreline habitat.

The Council will choose some combination of the 50 submitted projects in a package, called a Funded Priority List, to address habitat and water quality in a big way. Approximately $150 to $180 million is available for this funding opportunity, and the challenges for the Council will be where to focus the Funded Priority List and how to combine projects to achieve the goal of comprehensive, ecosystem-wide restoration.

One approach might be to ensure that all habitats, from Brownsville, Texas to the Florida Keys, and longleaf pine savannas to deep-water corals, are better understood and protected in some way. Another approach might be to look at problems affecting water quality – including stormwater runoff, leaky septic tanks and a lack of natural buffers like oyster reefs – and address those holistically in priority areas across the Gulf Coast.

Thankfully, the Council has posted the full descriptions of all 50 projects on their website where anyone may read them and select their favorite projects. We commend the Council for their commitment to restoring our environment in a way that is transparent, comprehensive and based on the best available science.

Ocean Conservancy is also excited to see projects included in the Council’s list that will restore deep-water corals and map the Gulf of Mexico seafloor. Deep-water corals were damaged extensively by the BP oil disaster, and the Department of Interior project to recover and restore this unique habitat will hopefully help this fragile ecosystem recover.

Additionally, the Department of Commerce project to map habitats in the Gulf of Mexico is absolutely critical, considering how little we know about the Gulf seafloor and its importance for things like fishery productivity. We consider these to be necessary and important components of comprehensive restoration, and welcome their inclusion on the roster of potential projects.

This is an exciting time for Gulf restoration, and we are eager to get to work on behalf of a resilient and healthy marine ecosystem. If you share our excitement, sign our petition and urge the Council to select projects that restore the Gulf beyond the shore.

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Gulf Leaders Hit the Mark on Restoring the Gulf Beyond the Shore http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/11/17/gulf-leaders-hit-the-mark-on-restoring-the-gulf-beyond-the-shore/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/11/17/gulf-leaders-hit-the-mark-on-restoring-the-gulf-beyond-the-shore/#comments Tue, 18 Nov 2014 02:10:20 +0000 Kara Lankford http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=9526

Photo: NOAA

Here at Ocean Conservancy, we blog about many issues—some are calls to action, some are educational, but this one is a call to celebrate! Today, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) announced more than $99.2 million for 25 restoration projects across the Gulf of Mexico.

The best part of this news is that Mississippi, Alabama and Florida have chosen to invest in projects that will restore the Gulf beyond the shore. These projects will provide much-needed funding to:

As detailed in Ocean Conservancy’s booklet Restoring the Gulf Beyond the Shore, we are a major champion for projects that restore the offshore species in the Gulf, as well as the underwater habitats that they call home.


We believe it is important to invest in the recovery of these animals that spend much of their lives offshore because the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster began in the deep water of the Gulf. The coastal and marine environments are two halves of a single whole, and restoration of one will be incomplete without the other.

We extend a hearty handshake to the folks at NFWF and to our state leaders for recognizing this intrinsic connection. We also commend NFWF and the states for taking a regional, ecosystem approach by funding restoration projects across multiple states and funding streams, so that these projects build on each other to create a comprehensive, integrated restoration effort. It’s so important to leverage the fines from BP and other responsible partners so that restoration of the Gulf is larger than the sum of its parts.

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Restoration Report Card: Gulf Council Fails at Public Participation http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/08/21/restoration-report-card-gulf-council-fails-at-public-participation/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/08/21/restoration-report-card-gulf-council-fails-at-public-participation/#comments Fri, 22 Aug 2014 01:09:56 +0000 Kara Lankford http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=9069

Today the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council made some big announcements and provided more information on how they will choose projects to restore the Gulf. We’ve graded the Council’s efforts today, and the results are a mixed bag.

Project selection process: B+

The Council announced that the window for submitting projects to restore the Gulf starts today and will be open until at least November 17. They’ve also provided a detailed strategy on how they will evaluate projects based on science and the goals of the Council. While some questions remain, these details further lay the groundwork for the Council to select projects based on merit, not politics. For example, how will the science reviews be used to further prioritize projects? Will reviewers be permitted to rank projects as high, medium or low priority to guide Council staff recommendations? Will the public have access to summaries of independent reviews to help inform their comments? Answers to these questions are important, but overall, this is great news for the Gulf.

Public participation: F

The Council’s new fact sheet on public participation doesn’t provide details about how they plan to achieve meaningful public engagement across the Gulf Coast. Since the Council was formed with the passage of the RESTORE Act in 2012, they have frequently reiterated the importance of public engagement. In the spring of this year, Council staff made the rounds in each of the five Gulf states to ask conservation nonprofits, community leaders and fishermen for recommendations on how to engage the public in restoring the Gulf. These groups provided input under the impression that a process for participation and involvement was coming. Now, there is no mention of these recommendations in the Council’s fact sheet.

The Council states they “will continue to seek input from the public as it continues its work to plan for and implement large-scale ecosystem restoration projects across the Gulf region.” However, they fail to outline how this will be achieved. There is no website for sending project ideas to the Council and no list of community meetings for Gulf residents to speak out about how Gulf restoration dollars should be spent. The Council should seek public participation as a cohesive body, not as individual agencies or states. This will ensure a coordinated, consistent process across the five Gulf states, and will allow for all council members to hear from the Gulf Coast citizens, from Texas to Florida.

The Council also states “restoration work in the Gulf region will not be successful without genuine and meaningful input from the people in the region.” We couldn’t agree more. With a task so critical and personal to the people of the Gulf Coast, their involvement should be front and center. The Council should stay true to their word and provide a meaningful platform for Gulf Coast residents to be involved in the restoration process.

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High Five to the RESTORE Council! http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/07/25/high-five-to-the-restore-council/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/07/25/high-five-to-the-restore-council/#comments Sat, 26 Jul 2014 00:55:48 +0000 Kara Lankford http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=8832

In order to successfully restore the Gulf of Mexico from the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, Ocean Conservancy, as you may recall, has a tried-and-true Recipe for Restoration:

1 part science

1 part public engagement

1 part clear criteria for decision-making

We are so pleased today to see that the RESTORE Council is following our recipe for success. As the federal and state partnership charged with determining how billion of dollars in Clean Water Act fines will be spent, the RESTORE Council announced their plans today for receiving and evaluating proposals for Gulf restoration projects. This long-awaited announcement has been years in the making, and Ocean Conservancy has been one of the strongest supporters for a science-based platform for successful Gulf restoration. Thanks to the actions taken by the Council today, projects to restore the Gulf will be chosen based on merit, not on politics.
 The Council lays out a five-step process for project selection. Projects and programs that meet these criteria will be included in a draft prioritized list, known as the Funded Priorities List. The Council’s process will accomplish the following:

1.     Proposes focus areas of restoring habitat and water quality for projects and programs which will be included on the Funded Priorities List as the first addendum to the Initial Comprehensive Plan.

2.     Encourages project submissions that emphasize the following:

    • How a project is foundational in the sense that the project forms the initial core steps in addressing a significant ecosystem issue and that future projects can be tiered to substantially increase the benefits;
    • How a project will be sustainable over time;
    • Why a project is likely to succeed; and
    • How a project benefits the human community where implementation occurs.

3.     Provides for external independent scientific review of project proposals.

4.     Ensures that all applicable environmental compliance requirements are addressed.

5.     Ensures that projects meet both statutory requirements and commitments the Council made in the Comprehensive Plan.

Ocean Conservancy applauds the Council for seeking external scientific review of project proposals. This is so important to ensure that Gulf restoration projects are based on the best available science. We are also pleased to hear that they are committed to a transparent process, with projects coordinated across state lines. After all, fish don’t observe state lines underwater!

We commend the Council for their dedication and perseverance to accomplish the enormous task of restoring the Gulf, not just from the BP oil disaster, but also from decades of environmental disasters. The process outlined by the Council may not be perfect, but it will help guide restoration toward a comprehensive, ecosystem-wide approach to Gulf restoration. There is still much work to do and many more hurdles to jump, but today was certainly a victory. Let’s take time to celebrate this win. High five!

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Fishermen and Scientists Work Together to Track Sick Fish http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/07/21/fishermen-and-scientists-work-together-to-track-sick-fish/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/07/21/fishermen-and-scientists-work-together-to-track-sick-fish/#comments Mon, 21 Jul 2014 14:22:59 +0000 Alexis Baldera http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=8776

University of South Florida Professor Steven Murawski began studying diseases in fin fishes after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill when Gulf of Mexico fishermen began reporting a surge in fish with visible lesions. Credit: C-Image. Caption from phys.org

Fishermen are on the water every day, which means they are often the first to notice when something changes. After the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, we heard reports from fishermen that they were catching more fish with lesions than they had ever seen before. Immediately after hearing these reports, Dr. Jim Cowan at LSU began investigating the frequency, location and cause of the reported lesions. Many other scientists have collected data on this same issue, and last week a group from the University of South Florida published the first round of results in a scientific journal.

Through extensive study, the scientists ruled out other potential causes, such as pathogens or oceanographic conditions, and concluded that the BP oil disaster is the likely cause of the fish lesions. Oil has a distinct chemical signature that allows scientists to differentiate between different origins, and contamination in the sick fish was a better match to oil from BP’s Macondo well than any other source.

For the Gulf, studies that help us understand the lingering impacts of the BP oil disaster are critical to achieving recovery. They are also a reminder that we cannot close the door on studying the effects of the disaster or the impact of our restoration efforts until we are certain the job is complete. The results of the USF study are only the beginning of this story about how fish were impacted by the BP oil disaster. In order to achieve complete recovery, we need long-term research on how lesions and other oil impacts affect the survival and reproduction of fish, how their populations are responding to habitat and water quality restoration efforts, and what that means for the fishermen who first identified the problem.

Location of sampling stations and the percent of skin lesions per station for June–August 2011. The percent of skin lesions at a station is indicated as follows: white circles = 0%, red graduated circles = 0.1–2.0%, 2.1–4.0%, 4.1–6.0%, and >6.0% (from smallest to largest). The gray shading is the cumulative distribution of surface oil occurring during the duration of the Deepwater Horizon (DWH) event. Map credit: Murawski et al., 2014

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