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.
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As someone who’s worked in the Gulf region on environmental issues for years now, it sometimes seems like I’m up to my neck in plans and meetings. But now there is a real chance to work together to restore Gulf and its communities, and you can be part of the solution.
“The Path Forward to Restoring the Gulf Coast” is the first iteration of a plan to restore the Gulf Region that has been released by the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council in anticipation of potentially billions of dollars that are coming to the Gulf Coast as a result of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster. The Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council was created by the RESTORE Act, a bill that directs a significant portion of the Clean Water Act fine money paid by BP and other responsible parties to be used to restore the Gulf ecosystem. This is the first time that such a large amount of money has been dedicated to restoring the Gulf’s environment.
Over the next several weeks the Restoration Council will be convening a series of public meetings throughout the region to hear from citizens about what they think restoration and protection of our resources should look like. They will develop a comprehensive plan to address the decades of ecosystem challenges in the Gulf region and provide a blueprint for citizens, environmental organizations, fishermen, scientists and elected officials to work together to restore our environment and economy to an even better condition than it was before the oil disaster.
This is where you come in. Continue reading »
Recently I had the pleasure of fishing with local fishing celebrity Gary Finch of the Gary Finch Outdoors TV show. When I first met Gary, he was speaking to a crowd about ocean conservation, and before too long we scheduled a fishing trip together. Little did I know we were going out with one of the best boat captains in south Alabama, William Manci of Eastern Shore Outfitters.
My colleague Bethany Kraft and I arrived at the boat launch ready to enjoy a great day of fishing. The weather was perfect–warm with a hint of fall in the air. As we headed out into Mobile Bay, the water was as smooth as glass. Dolphins played in the boat wake, and pelicans dove for breakfast as we skimmed across the water. We anchored near a natural gas rig and put our game faces on. Soon we were catching speckled trout and a few white trout. As the day went on, the fish got bigger and feistier, and we started catching Spanish mackerel. I got a bite just about every time I threw my line in the water. It was amazing! Continue reading »
From insightful blog posts to huge pollution headlines, this week’s top tweets are full of information on ocean-related events. Here we go!
1. New Developments About the Cleaning Agent Used to Cleanup the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Disaster
Hearing that a dispersant is just as harmful as oil to corals is a hard pill to swallow, especially when it’s used to cleanup a whopping 200 million gallons of oil. To make matters worse, some types of coral were not able to survive in laboratory tests with the smallest amount of the dispersant Corexit 9500–.86 parts per million. Continue reading »
Ocean Conservancy Map of important ecological areas near the recent rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico
Less than 24 hours after the US Government announced historic criminal fines for BP’s activities leading up to and following the BP oil disaster, an explosion on a production platform about 25 miles south of Grand Isle, LA left several workers injured, one man dead and another missing. The owner of the rig, Black Elk Energy, announced today that they were calling off the search for the missing worker.
This tragic event is a somber reminder that accidents can and do happen despite our best efforts to prevent them. Whether in the Gulf of Mexico or the Chukchi Sea (off Alaska’s Arctic coast), fossil fuel extraction carries risks to the workers as well as to sensitive environmental resources.
When an event like the explosion on the Black Elk rig occurs, it is natural and appropriate to focus first on the well-being of those involved in a tragedy and then on the recovery and restoration of our natural resources, but it is critical to remember that we must also ensure that we are better prepared for the accidents and disasters that will inevitably occur.
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Just a few examples of the off-shore impacts of the BP disaster
Big news today. BP will pay record criminal fines resulting from the BP oil disaster. This is a step forward in settling all of BP’s debts to the Gulf Coast citizens who deserve for BP to be held fully accountable to the maximum extent of the law. BP pleading to criminal charges, before a global settlement is reached, is some vindication for those who deserve to know the truth about why this disaster occurred. We are approaching three years since the rig explosion, and you don’t have to look far to see that people are still suffering the effects of this tragedy turned environmental disaster turned economic disaster.
However, this is not the end of the road. Not by a long shot.
BP still needs to answer for their gross negligence and while these record criminal penalties are a step forward, they do not pay for the damage BP has done to the broader Gulf community. We were pleased to see Attorney General Eric Holder today (just a few floors down from our New Orleans office) make it very clear that he intends to prove in court that BP was grossly negligent in allowing a vast amount of oil to gush into the Gulf—a legal definition that carries the highest civil penalties under the Clean Water Act.
It’s an important step for BP to accept responsibility for the deaths of 11 workers on the first day of this tragedy and it sets the stage for BP to continue to be held accountable with record fines, especially in regard to the amount of money directed to the Gulf through the RESTORE ACT in order to fully restore Gulf Coast communities, and both the coastal and marine environments.
It’s also good news that some of the criminal fines announced today will be directed to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and National Academy of Sciences. This will provide some good opportunities to begin making the Gulf whole. But that money is different from the civil fines BP should pay under the Clean Water Act, which would be directed to the RESTORE Act passed earlier this year. BP still has much to answer for and the criminal settlement will not come close to making up for the damage BP is responsible for in the Gulf of Mexico.
It’s unfortunate that we have to wait for a trial that doesn’t start until next year to hold BP fully accountable. But this is progress and there is work happening now through early restoration that is moving us closer to recovery. As we move forward, we must not forget the off-shore environment, where this disaster began. Restoration of the Gulf requires an approach that addresses marine resources as well as coastal environments and Gulf communities. The nation must commit effort and money to address all three in order to achieve a resilient, healthy Gulf with a sustainable future.
No amount of money will change the fact that 11 men lost their lives, and I for one can’t find the heart to celebrate the closing of another chapter in the oil disaster. But I am optimistic that this criminal settlement sets the tone for a final trial resolution that will recognize and compensate the people of the Gulf for all that has been lost. We deserve nothing less.
NOAA recently released several photos of a dead sperm whale found in the Gulf of Mexico just a few months after the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster began. While NOAA’s scientists were unable to determine the cause of death, this story does serve as a very graphic reminder that more must be done to protect the marine life in the Gulf.
This whale is one of two dead sperm whales that have been reported in the oil spill area of the Gulf. Two whales may not seem like much, but sperm whales are a federally listed endangered species in the United States, and even a small number of deaths could seriously impact their population.
Sperm whales, which can live up to 70 years, can be found year-round in the northern Gulf, and they are especially common near the Mississippi Canyon, where the Deepwater Horizon oil rig was located. Sperm whales spend most of their time in deep water, diving to the ocean bottom to snack on giant squids and other ocean creatures. With all that diving throughout the water column, it’s possible the whales were exposed to oil or dispersants. The hustle and bustle of oil spill response activities can be equally harmful.
Should we be worried? Continue reading »