The Blog Aquatic » bp oil spill News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Thu, 28 Aug 2014 17:32:30 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Scientists Discover How BP Oil Affects Tuna Hearts Mon, 24 Feb 2014 16:25:07 +0000 Carmen Yeung

Photo: NOAA

During the spring and summer of 2010, the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster released over 4 million barrels of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico. This was an unprecedented amount of toxic material discharged into the Gulf, and scientists have been researching its impacts on marine and coastal wildlife ever since. One of the species of concern is the imperiled Atlantic bluefin tuna, which was spawning at the time and location of the BP disaster.

In a new study, scientists from Stanford University and the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) discovered that crude oil, specifically polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), disrupts the cellular pathway that allows juvenile bluefin and yellowfin tuna heart cells to beat effectively. This causes a slowed heart rate, reduced ability of muscular heart tissue to contract, and irregular heartbeats that can lead to cardiac arrest and death.

Crude oil is known to be toxic to the developing hearts of fish embryos and larvae, reducing the likelihood that those fish will survive. But until now, the details of how crude oil harmed fish hearts were unclear.

How Crude Oil Slows the Heartbeat

The heart in vertebrates is made up of a collection of individual cells that interact to give the heart its ability to beat and pump blood. To beat effectively, the heart cell must move essential ions like potassium and calcium through channels into and out of the cell quickly. Very low concentrations of crude oil block these channels in heart cell membranes, which ultimately slow the fish’s heartbeat.

The ion channels observed in tuna heart cells are similar to the ion channels found in heart cells of many animals, including humans. This study provides evidence as to how petroleum products may be negatively affecting cardiac function in a wide variety of animals.

Implications for Other Species

After the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster, other fish, such as red snapper, spawned in offshore waters, these spawning habitats were potentially oiled as a result of the disaster. This raises the possibility that eggs and larvae of many species, which float near surface waters, were exposed to oil. The potential harmful impacts of the BP disaster on young fish are still being investigated.

Looking at the big picture, these new findings demonstrate how petroleum-derived chemical pollution from the BP oil disaster and other sources — such as urban stormwater runoff — could affect coastal and marine species in the Gulf or elsewhere. This study raises the concern that exposure to PAHs in many animals – including humans – could lead to cardiac arrhythmias and bradycardia, or slowing of the heart.

Restoring the Gulf of Mexico

This study is groundbreaking for many reasons. For one, it offers insight into how crude oil from the BP disaster could impact wildlife in offshore waters. Second, the study points to the types of data that scientists need to collect in order to monitor the environment’s health and recovery before and after an oil spill – like a doctor taking vital signs to monitor a patient’s health prior to and after a heart attack.

And lastly, it underscores the importance of funding long-term ecosystem monitoring to understand how daily pollution such as stormwater runoff and air pollution as well as large scale human-caused disasters affect the health of wildlife, habitats and humans.

In light of this significant discovery, it is essential that we continue to research and monitor the impacts of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster so that we may understand the full scope of injury and implement strategies to restore the Gulf of Mexico to its former resilience and beauty.

]]> 25
Oil Disaster Trial Phase 2: BP vs. Reality Wed, 23 Oct 2013 12:00:17 +0000 Andreas Merkl Seabirds in the Gulf are threatened by oil from the BP spill.

Photo: Kris Krug via Flickr

The following is an excerpt from a post that first appeared on Huffington Post:

It’s been more than three years since the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster grabbed worldwide attention. The explosive blowout that tragically claimed the lives of 11 workers on board the rig in April 2010 also unleashed an unprecedented amount of oil that flowed uncontrolled into the Gulf of Mexico for 87 days. The impacts have been staggering and ongoing.

BP’s actions to stop the oil, as well as how much actually spewed into the Gulf, were the subject of the second phase of BP’s trial in New Orleans, which concluded last week. The final phase of the trial will take place next year, after which the judge will determine the penalties. In the meantime, here are some things you need to know.

BP’s public messaging around the trial has usually fallen into one of three categories:

  1. We’ve done a lot already.
  2. We intend to pay for the damages.
  3. We’re being ripped off.

But here’s the truth:

  1. What they’ve done is far below what is needed to fully restore the Gulf economy and ecosystem.
  2. Their actions contradict their claim that they intend to pay for full restoration.
  3. The people of the Gulf are the ones who stand to be ripped off.

Read more at Huffington Post.

]]> 6
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.

]]> 8
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.

]]> 9
Ringing in the New Year with RESTORE’d Hope Thu, 03 Jan 2013 20:35:54 +0000 Bethany Kraft

Oil on the surface of the Gulf of Mexico, with a drilling rig in the background. Photo by Brandon Shuler

Passed in July 2012, The RESTORE Act directs money from penalties in response to the BP oil disaster to the Gulf Coast, but has only been a written law – a promise to the citizens of the region – until now. A newly announced $1.4 billion settlement between the Department of Justice and Transocean Ltd will provide some real green to the RESTORE Act and help to begin the restoration of the Gulf of Mexico’s coastal and marine resources.

Holding all parties responsible for their role in the BP oil disaster is imperative to provide some of the financing needed to restore the Gulf’s ecosystems and people. Transocean will plead guilty to violating the Clean Water Act and pay over a billion dollars in fines.

It is great news that a combined $300 million from the settlement will be directed to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and National Academy of Sciences. Using and improving science is extremely important not only in recovering from disasters, but in gaining a better understanding of the Gulf’s resources so we can provide better protection for these resources so critical to the culture and livelihoods of the Gulf Coast and the Nation.

This new settlement is a great step forward, but the biggest step is yet to come. BP still needs to be held fully accountable and it’s unfortunate that we still have no resolution of civil and administrative claims. We deserve nothing less than a trial resolution that recognizes and compensates the people of the Gulf for all that has been lost.

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.

We must focus our effort, energy and funding to restoration of our coastal and marine environments as well as our coastal communities if we are going to realize our vision of a vibrant and healthy Gulf region. Ocean Conservancy encourages everyone to continue to be involved in the restoration process and to work together to make sure all liable parties are held accountable and that we have a Gulf of Mexico stronger than before.

]]> 0
Florida to Receive $10 million from Settlement Related to BP Oil Disaster Fri, 07 Dec 2012 22:07:18 +0000 Bethany Kraft

Oiled beach at the Pensacola, Florida pier during the BP oil disaster.

Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection will receive $10 million from a settlement between the US Department of Justice and MOEX Offshore, which resolves civil penalty claims against the Macondo well investor for their role in the BP oil disaster. The Sunshine State will use $5 million to reduce urban stormwater runoff and nonpoint source pollution, and the other $5 million will be used to provide conservation easements for lands around the panhandle of Florida.

Florida’s Governor Scott said “millions will go into clean water projects, so Florida continues its progress in protecting and restoring our state’s natural waterbodies.”

Ocean Conservancy knows the importance of taking the entire ecosystem into account during restoration and supports the State of Florida’s $10 million investment in conservations easements and improving water quality. The culture and the economy of the Gulf Coast depend as much on the health of the ecosystem as the wildlife that thrives there does, and this decision will not only provide relief for citizens, but also for oysters and other wildlife in Pensacola Bay and other areas of the Panhandle.

The Gulf sustains a robust seafood industry as well as recreational fishing and tourism activities. The five Gulf states have a gross domestic product of over $2.3 trillion a year. This is a place where the culture and the economy depend on the health of the ecosystem—as does the wildlife that thrives there.

Despite this abundance, the region faces significant challenges from not only the recent BP oil disaster but decades of degradation from coastal erosion, pollution, overfishing and excessive nutrient runoff that has produced a dead zone of depleted oxygen. These problems threaten fish, wildlife, the places where they live and the people who depend on a healthy ocean for jobs and business.

The BP oil disaster demonstrated how every part of the Gulf, from far offshore waters and fisheries to coastal wetlands and communities, are connected and interdependent. The region needs science-based restoration that takes the entire ecosystem into account. This includes both coastal and marine (offshore) environments. Ocean Conservancy is pleased science-based restoration, which includes the entire ecosystem from the coastal and open water environments, is a focus for the State of Florida.

]]> 1
Say No to Shell’s Arctic Drilling Plans Mon, 30 Jul 2012 19:59:40 +0000 Andrew Hartsig

A young Steller’s eider, one of the rarest birds in Alaska. Credit: Heidi Cline, Alaska Fish and Wildlife Service

It’s been two years since the BP Deepwater Horizon tragedy – the worst oil spill disaster in U.S. history. Think back to the awful images of that spill: oil billowing into the ocean from BP’s Macondo well, people frantically setting up boom to protect the vulnerable coast, and skimmers trying to scoop up some fraction of the oil that was spreading over the surface of the Gulf of Mexico.

Now try to imagine responding to a similar spill in the Arctic Ocean. There would be no major ports from which to stage responders and vessels. There would be no roads to move equipment along the coast. Responders might have to cope with sea ice that would clog skimmers and wreak havoc on boom. And they might have to call off cleanup efforts because of the Arctic’s notoriously challenging conditions – conditions that can include extreme cold, thick fog, prolonged darkness and hurricane-force winds.

Timing is everything: Shell looks to begin drilling in the Arctic Chukchi Sea in a matter of weeks. Please take a minute to sign our petition and help us stop it.

Spectacled Eider. Credit: Laura L. Whitehouse, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

The potential for disaster should be obvious, even to Shell: Since 2000, there have been no tests of skimming and booming in U.S. Arctic waters. And the tests that were conducted 12 years ago were considered a “failure.”  No evidence exists that Shell is capable of effectively cleaning up an oil spill in the Arctic. So why are we turning a blind eye to this and allowing them to drill anyway?

What’s more, Shell’s recent record of missteps is very troubling:

Not long ago, Shell lost control of its drill ship, which almost ran aground near Dutch Harbor, Alaska. Winds reaching 35 mph pushed the vessel dangerously close to the shore – and some locals insist it did, in fact, hit the beach. When reporters started questioning Shell’s claim that it would be able recover 95 percent of spilled oil after a worst-case discharge in the Arctic, Shell backpedaled. The oil company insisted it only claimed it would “encounter” spilled oil – not “recover” it. Shell is also having trouble getting Coast Guard certification for one of its oil spill response vessels, and the company has admitted it won’t be able to satisfy the air quality standards established in its Clean Air Act permit.

The Obama Administration appears to be taking notice and still has an opportunity to deny the final permits that Shell needs before it can begin drilling. Less than one month ago, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said it was “highly likely” he would grant the permits and that “the response capability is there.” But more recently, his tone changed: Salazar noted he has “not yet given the final permits to Shell.” And he clarified that “we don’t know if [drilling] will occur, and if it does occur, it will be done under the most watched program in the history of the United States.”

We’re glad Secretary Salazar is considering denying the permits – that would be the right thing to do. But he’s wrong in thinking that “watching” the program could be enough. As BP’s Deepwater Horizon disaster painfully taught us, we must plan for the worst. In the Arctic, that means we must be ready for a major oil spill and have confidence we can effectively recover the oil and protect this fragile ecosystem. Shell has not met that standard.

This is the moment when we need to show our force in numbers – to demonstrate to Secretary Salazar, President Obama, Shell Oil and the world that we will not sit idly by while this potential disaster is on the verge of becoming a reality. Raise your hand, sign our petition and stand with us against Shell’s dangerous project in the Arctic.

]]> 3