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.
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.
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.
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 »
As is the case with many career paths, my journey toward joining Ocean Conservancy as President and CEO is a long and circuitous one, and it begins with a childhood spent playing along the Rhine River in Cologne, Germany. Inspired by the post-war environmental awakening in industrial northern Germany, I knew I wanted to dedicate my life to conservation.
When I graduated from high school, my father gave me 3,000 Deutsche Marks and told me to leave out of the front door of the house and return at the back door, taking the long way around. As naïve as it sounds, I started my “walkabout” in the United States by sticking my thumb in the air outside the arrivals terminal of New York City’s JFK airport and eventually hitchhiked my way across the country.
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.
Greetings from the Lone Star State! Amidst the hustle and bustle of last minute Christmas preparations, and visiting with family (and family dogs–there are 4 at my feet as I write!), I feel compelled to take a moment to thank our members and supporters who took time this month to support Ocean Conservancy’s work to ensure that Gulf Restoration moves forward in a way that protects the wildlife, people and places that make the Gulf a national treasure. After exceeding our goal of 30,000 petition signatures to support sea turtle nesting ground restoration, the project has officially been approved for funding.
Restoring the Gulf from not only the oil disaster but also from decades of problems like wetland loss, nutrient pollution and loss of habitat is a huge undertaking, and a complex challenge. In the Gulf Restoration Program, we focus on all of the moving pieces that will hopefully create a coordinated effort for restoration on a scale not often seen. From advocating for the RESTORE Act, to participating in countless public meetings, from testifying in front of Congress, to working with the people who make their living on the water, from advocating for science to support restoration, to pushing for projects that will have a significant impact on the species we love– we do it all, and we do it with all our heart. Even so, it’s easy to get lost in the details, to keep one’s head down and just keep pushing, sometimes not even coming up for air when it’s time to celebrate important victories.