Credit: NASA Goddard MODIS Rapid Response Team
Residents across the Gulf Coast breathed a sigh of relief last weekend as Tropical Storm Karen dissipated (and as an added bonus, the humidity dropped). But as many of us feared, the storm kicked up more oil in the Gulf as it passed, and a fresh batch of tar balls have washed ashore on Grand Isle, La.
This is an ugly reminder that oil still lurks offshore, and we have not yet seen the end of the oil’s impacts on the Gulf.
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Photo: Ken Cedeno / Ocean Conservancy
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.)
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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.
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Bayou La Batre, Alabama
This week, over $600 million in early restoration projects were announced by states in the Gulf of Mexico. This is BP money that is specifically to be used to address the damage caused by the oil disaster. Some of the projects announced this week, like the oyster reef restoration project in Alabama, and many projects in Louisiana, are likely to be supported by the public and to be appropriate uses of Natural Resources Damage Assessment (NRDA) funding. Unfortunately, the public can’t make that determination without access to more information.
We are disappointed to see these projects announced without the inclusion of any sort of environmental or overarching analysis to provide transparency or opportunities for public involvement, not to mention provide the legal basis and policy guidance for addressing the injury caused by the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster.
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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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Restoring the Gulf of Mexico – A brown pelican flies off Elmer’s Island, Louisiana with an oil rig in the background. Photo: Cheryl Gerber
As the likelihood of a settlement in the civil case against BP for the Deepwater Horizon disaster shrinks, here are a few basic facts about what to expect when the big trial kicks off in New Orleans next week as scheduled.
The trial is being handled in three separate phases: (1) the incident phase; (2) the source control/discharge phase; and (3) the final phase addressing oil containment issues like the use of skimmers, dispersant and boom.
Phase One of the trial is scheduled to start this coming Monday, Feb. 25. It’s called the “Trial of Liability, Limitation, Exoneration, and Fault Allocation.” It is a non-jury trial, meaning Judge Barbier is the decisionmaker. It will focus on the lead-up to the disaster and is designed to determine the causes of BP’s well blowout. It should answer the question of gross vs. simple negligence. The United States intends to prove gross negligence or willful misconduct at the Phase One trial. Yesterday, BP issued a statement about its intentions to “vigorously defend” itself against the gross negligence allegations . This is very important for determining the fines for violations of the Clean Water Act, which will in turn influence how much money is available for restoration of the Gulf of Mexico through the RESTORE Act passed last year.
Phase Two will address efforts to stop the flow of oil from the well. The dates for Phases Two and Three of the trial have not been set. We will be keeping a close watch on the proceedings.
Read what we’ve said previously about what a good resolution to this case should look like.
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.