The Blog Aquatic » deepwater horizon http://blog.oceanconservancy.org News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Thu, 28 Aug 2014 17:32:30 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.4.2 My Personal Journey from Despair to Hope Four Years After the BP Oil Disaster (Part 1) http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/04/17/my-personal-journey-from-despair-to-hope-four-years-after-the-bp-oil-disaster-part-1/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2014/04/17/my-personal-journey-from-despair-to-hope-four-years-after-the-bp-oil-disaster-part-1/#comments Thu, 17 Apr 2014 12:45:55 +0000 Kara Lankford http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=8090

Kara Lankford flies in a Black Hawk helicopter to assess damage done by the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster.

Four summers ago, I was in a Black Hawk helicopter overlooking the Alabama beaches, helplessly watching oil roll in from the spill on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig. I was working as a natural resource planner for Baldwin County on the Alabama Gulf Coast when Deepwater Horizon exploded, and the first reports of the tragic loss of life stopped me in my tracks. As the days went on, it was evident that this was not only a human tragedy but also a serious environmental disaster. As the oil continued to gush from the well, oil projection maps were published daily, and each day the oil grew closer to the Alabama coast. Suddenly this place where I had spent so many happy days was about to change, and change dramatically.

Mobile, Alabama is my hometown, a small port city on Mobile Bay. I’ll never forget the trips to the beach during the summer with my big sister and fishing at Cedar Point pier near Dauphin Island or Gulf State Park in Orange Beach. I still recall how proud I was to a catch a mullet or a flounder, if I was lucky. These fond memories helped shape my passion for the Gulf and drove me to pursue an environmental degree during college, so that I could help protect the things I loved so much about the coast. Little did I know that the Gulf would experience one of the worst environmental disasters in the world.

While working for the county I attended meetings at Incident Command, the logistics center for the oil spill response. There, the county government decided to place oil booms in strategic locations in an effort to protect the fragile salt marshes. About 200,000 feet of boom was placed in the county limits alone. We flew in Black Hawk helicopters once a week to make sure the boom was still in its proper place. On one flight, we began to see the oil moving in; the colorful sheen was unmistakable. Skimmer boats attempted to remove the oil from the water before it reached the beach, but the beautiful white quartz sand where I used to build sand castles as a kid was already stained orange from the oil. Oil spill cleanup crews took the place of sunbathers and parasails on the beach. Seeing all this from the air was devastating. Reports of oiled pelicans and dead dolphins filled the news stories each evening. I remember thinking that I would have to move elsewhere instead of watch this destruction play out in a place so dear to me.

Eighty-seven days slowly ticked by. After many attempts to cap the well, it was finally over, but not before 4.9 million barrels of oil spilled into the vast Gulf ecosystem. The following months would not bring much peace. By the winter of 2010, I was working as a natural resource advisor to the crews working to clean oil from the Alabama coast. By this time, most of the oil was weathered and in the form of tar balls and large mats just offshore. Most of my time was spent with the crews working in the back bays of Orange Beach. It was amazing how far the oil traveled into the back bays. The crews cleaned tar balls ranging in size from a dime to larger than your hand. On occasion I worked the beach front where heavy equipment called sand sharks sifted the oil from the sand. Each time the Gulf was churned up by even a thunderstorm, more tar balls would wash up on the beaches. This was our new reality.

As 2010 came to an end, I began working for Ocean Conservancy as an outreach specialist in Alabama and Mississippi. My work brought me closer to my fellow Gulf Coast citizens, and I began to consider the resilience we exhibit in the face of disasters. This is home. After a hurricane, we rebuild, but I wondered if it was possible to rebuild after an oil spill. Act now and stay tuned for Part 2 of this post to see if this devastating disaster could somehow be made into a positive opportunity for the Gulf of Mexico.

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Public Engagement Missing from Early Restoration in the Gulf http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/05/03/public-engagement-missing-from-early-restoration-in-the-gulf/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/05/03/public-engagement-missing-from-early-restoration-in-the-gulf/#comments Fri, 03 May 2013 20:04:25 +0000 Bethany Kraft http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=5649

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.

The NRDA Trustees do not dispute their legal duties under both the Oil Pollution Act (OPA) and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) to produce a Restoration Plan and Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS), which would accomplish this. Indeed, it has been two years since they announced that a draft Plan and PEIS would be produced by early 2012. Yet we continue to see an assortment of projects announced without these guiding documents, effectively limiting citizens from full participation in the restoration process as required by law and providing little confidence that these projects in aggregate will make the public whole.

This effort is about restoring the Gulf following the largest oil spill in U.S. history. And giving the public certainty that the government is getting this right is not just a good thing to do, it’s what the law requires.

Before any of the recently announced new projects receive final approval, the public needs additional information about the nature, scope, and the geographic extent of the injury, as well as a Restoration Plan. This is what the law promises, and the Trustees must deliver.

Early restoration projects implemented without the guidance of a PEIS and Restoration Plan undermine the Trustees’ own goal of developing a holistic, ecosystem-based restoration plan because they do not include a full range of alternatives, nor do they provide a level of analysis that gives the public a sense of why some projects were chosen over other options.

Despite the murkiness of how project decisions are made as part of early restoration, one thing is clear: the public stands to lose big in the long run if the Trustees refuse to engage them as a meaningful part of decision-making.

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Oil in the Court: Quick Facts on BP Trial Set to Start Next Week http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/02/20/oil-in-the-court-quick-facts-on-bp-trial-set-to-start-next-week/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2013/02/20/oil-in-the-court-quick-facts-on-bp-trial-set-to-start-next-week/#comments Wed, 20 Feb 2013 20:45:35 +0000 Ivy Fredrickson http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=4709

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.

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Restoring the Gulf of Mexico by Pointing Baby Turtles Back to Sea http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2012/10/12/restoring-the-gulf-of-mexico-by-pointing-baby-turtles-back-to-sea/ http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/2012/10/12/restoring-the-gulf-of-mexico-by-pointing-baby-turtles-back-to-sea/#comments Fri, 12 Oct 2012 19:10:39 +0000 Denny Takahashi Kelso http://blog.oceanconservancy.org/?p=3230 Have you heard that Coast Guard officials recently confirmed an oil slick found in the Gulf of Mexico last week matched oil from the Deepwater Horizon disaster? Indeed, while the BP spill may be a distant memory to some, the Gulf still feels the effects today. The Coast Guard has said the oil slick “does not post a threat to the shoreline,” but it will certainly affect the Gulf’s offshore waters, which are just as vital to the region’s overall health.

In my latest Huffington Post piece, I weigh in on the threats this oil continues to pose in the Gulf and discuss the ways Ocean Conservancy continues to work toward marine restoration in this important area. One project helps point baby turtles back to sea:

Sea turtles are at sea for most of their life cycle, but they return to beaches in Texas, Alabama and Florida to lay their eggs. Although the Deepwater Horizon oil spill harmed turtles, we can help them recover by taking steps on the shore to protect their nesting habitats.

Bright lighting from beachfront residences, parks and piers may mislead hatchlings who may follow the bright lights and travel in the wrong direction, away from the water — with deadly results.

By retrofitting existing lights near beaches with lights that are dimmer or have filters or shields that help keep the beach dark, we can help more baby sea turtles reach their ocean habitat and have the chance of surviving to adulthood.

Efforts to protect sea turtle nesting habitats provide multiple benefits, including helping local economies that depend upon tourism. Read the whole piece on Huffington Post for more information.

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