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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Shrimp boats outfitted to skim oil head out of Grand Isle to clean up the massive oil before it hits the Louisiana shore, Wed., June 9, 2010. Credit: Cheryl Gerber
No question it’s a big news day in Washington. One big thing we want to make sure doesn’t get lost in the mix is the inclusion of the RESTORE Act in the final Transportation bill that Congress will vote on this week. Directing the fines BP and other parties responsible for the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil disaster have to pay back to the Gulf for restoration has been a key priority of ours since the early days of this ordeal.
Thanks are in order to Senator Boxer for her leadership in the negotiations and the Senators and Representatives from the Gulf States, particularly Senators Landrieu, Nelson, and Shelby, and Representative Scalise for their work in shepherding the bill to final passage. We’d like to thank Senator Nelson of Florida specifically for making sure the bill includes a science and monitoring program, which is always a crucial issue for Ocean Conservancy.
A quiet victim went unseen in many of the images of oil-soaked animals publicized during the BP oil disaster. While many of us were moved by the plight of animals caught up in this man-made disaster, we should also be concerned for the wetland plants quietly suffering in the background.
Because of an expanding human footprint and natural processes, Gulf wetlands are declining at an accelerated rate exacerbated by the BP oil disaster. A recent study by the National Academy of Sciences, reported on in The Advocate, shows the BP oil disaster doubled the erosion rates of wetlands in some areas.
This critical habitat offers hurricane protection to the coast and serves as the nursery grounds, homes, food source and safe-havens to countless marine species. The Mississippi River is still working, as it has for thousands of years, to create these remarkably productive wetlands. Continue reading »