On April 20, 2010, a reckless attitude towards the safety of the Gulf Coast by BP, as well as Transocean and Halliburton, caused a well to blow out 5,000 feet below the surface of the Gulf of Mexico. As the world watched in horror, underwater cameras showed a seemingly endless flow of oil – hundreds of millions of gallons - and a series of failed efforts to stop it, over a period of nearly three months. Two years later, that horror has not ended for many on the Gulf.
“People should be aware that the oil is still there,” says Wilma Subra, a chemist who travels widely across the Gulf meeting with fishers and testing seafood and sediment samples for contamination.
Subra says that the reality she is seeing on the ground contrasts sharply with the image painted by BP. “I’m extremely concerned on the impact it’s having on all these sick individuals,” she says. Subra believes we may be just at the beginning of this disaster. In every community she visits, fishers show her shrimp born without eyes, fish with lesions, and crabs with holes in their shells. She says tarballs are still washing up on beaches across the region.
While it’s too early to assess the long-term environmental impact, a host of recent studies published by the National Academy of Sciences and other respected institutions have shown troubling results. They describe mass deaths of deepwater coral, dolphins, and killifish, a small animal at the base of the Gulf food chain. “If you add them all up, it’s clear the oil is still in the ecosystem, it’s still having an effect,” says Aaron Viles, deputy director of Gulf Restoration Network, an environmental organization active in the region.
The major class action lawsuit on behalf of communities affected by the spill has reached a proposed 7.8 billion dollar settlement, subject to approval by a judge. While this seems to have brought a certain amount of closure to the saga, environmentalists worry that any settlement is premature, saying they fear that the worst is yet to come. Pointing to the 1989 Exxon spill off the coast of Alaska, previously the largest oil spill in US waters, Viles said that it was several years before the full affect of that disaster was felt. “Four seasons after Exxon Valdez is when the herring fisheries collapsed,” says Viles. “The Gulf has been a neglected ecosystem for decades – we need to be monitoring it closely.”
In the aftermath of the spill, BP flooded the Gulf with nearly 2 million gallons of chemical dispersants. While BP says these chemicals broke up the oil, some scientists have said this just made it less visible, and sent the poisons deeper into the food chain.
It is widely agreed that environmental problems on the coast date back to long before the well blew open. The massive catastrophe brought into focus problems that have existed for a generation. Land loss caused by oil company drilling has already displaced many who lived by the coast, and the pollution from treatment plants has poisoned communities across the state - especially in “cancer alley,” the corridor of industrial facilities along the Mississippi River south of Baton Rouge. “The Gulf is a robust ecosystem and it’s been dying the death of a thousand cuts for a long time,” says Viles. “BP is legally obligated to fix what they screwed up. But if you’re only obligated to put the ecosystem back to where it was April 19, 2010, why would we?”
Fishing is a huge part of the economy for the Gulf Coast. Around 40% of the seafood caught in the continental US comes from here. Many area fishermen were still recovering from Hurricane Katrina when the spill closed a third of Gulf waters to fishing for months. George Barisich, president of the United Commercial Fisherman’s Association, a group that supports Gulf Coast fishers, says many fishers still had not recovered from Hurricane Katrina when the oil started flowing from the BP spill. Now, he says, many are facing losing their homes. “Production is down at least 70 percent,” compared to the year before the spill, he says. “And prices are still depressed thirty, forty, sixty percent.”
In a video statement on BP’s website, Geir Robinson, Vice President of Economic Restoration for BP’s Gulf Coast Restoration Organization, says that the company believes the legal settlement will resolve most legitimate economic claims. “We do have critics,” adds Robinson. “And we’re working hard every day to show them that we will meet our responsibilities.”
Environmentalists and scientists also complain that Obama administration has let down the Gulf Coast. Viles is critical of the role the US government has played, saying that by inaction they seemed to protect BP more than coastal communities or the environment. “The coast guard seems to empower the worst instincts of BP,” Viles says. “I don’t know if it’s Stockholm Syndrome or what.”
International environmental groups have also joined in the criticism. Oceana, a conservation group with offices in Europe and the Americas, released a report on Tuesday criticizing the US government’s reforms as being either ineffective or nonexistent, saying “offshore drilling remains as risky and dangerous as it was two years ago, and that the risk of a major spill has not been effectively reduced.”
Theresa Dardar lives in Bayou Pointe-au-Chien, a Native American fishing community on Louisiana’s Gulf Coast. Dardar and her neighbors have seen their land vanish from under their feet within their lifetimes due to canals built by the oil companies to access wells. The canals brought salt water into freshwater marshes, helping cause the coastal erosion that sees Louisiana lose a football field of land every 45 minutes. The main street that runs through the community now disappears into the swamps, with telephone poles sticking out of the water.
Now, in addition to worries about disappearing land and increasing risk of hurricanes, she fears that her family’s livelihood is gone for good. “It’s not going to be over for years,” she says, expressing a widely held concern among fishers here. “We’re just a small Native American fishing community. That’s all they’ve done their whole lives. Some of them are over 60. What are they going to do? If BP gives them money for the rest of their lives, that’s one thing. But if not, then what can they do?
Jordan Flaherty is a journalist based in New Orleans and author of the book Floodlines: Community and Resistance from Katrina to the Jena Six. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Global Green USA proudly partners with the AIA, New Orleans Chapter and USGBC, LA Chapter to present a monthly panel series on issues of sustainability and environmental responsibility.
Students from University of Louisiana School of Architecture and Design will be presenting their poster sessions, featuring the work of fourth year architecture students. We’ll learn more about these multi-story, mixed-use proposals for Lafayette that began with intensive site and urban design analysis and concluded with the production of highly developed drawings, including: plans, elevations, building sections and a wall section.
Thursday, April 26th
5:30pm to 7:30pm
AIA New Orleans Center for Design
1000 St. Charles Avenue
New Orleans, LA
Global Green events are free and open to the public. Light refreshments at 5:30pm, panel begins at 6pm. For more information on this and past events, see the AIA calendar, here: Events Calendar, or contact Heidi Jensen at our Green Building Resource Center: firstname.lastname@example.org
Special thanks to our good friends at Whole Foods Market for their generous support.
Tues, April 10, 2012 ~ by Mark Schleifstein, The Times-Picayune
Two years after the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill, there are still clear signs that the environment along the northern Gulf of Mexico, especially in Louisiana, continues to be affected by oil pollution, according to a report released Tuesday by the National Wildlife Federation. “Although the oil has stopped flowing from the wellhead, the gas has stopped spewing out of the wellhead, the Gulf oil spill is not over,” said Doug Inkley, senior scientist for the federation.
The federation called on Congress to pass the Restore Act, which would dedicate fines and penalties against BP and other responsible parties toward long-term restoration of the Gulf. It also called for better safeguards in oil and gas leasing practices and permitting.
The federation concluded that six key Gulf features remain at risk from BP oil, although not all are in serious danger yet, Inkley said.
The most visible of them: the bottlenose dolphins of Barataria Bay, declared in poor health last month by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Prior to the spill, the federation rated the status of those dolphins as “good.” Today, they’re “fair,” because of an “unexplained mortality event” that has resulted in more dolphins being stranded at a higher-than-average rate for 26 consecutive months. Most of the stranded dolphins were dead.
NOAA scientists last month said that it’s still too soon to link the deaths to the heavy oiling of the Barataria Bay area, but said the dolphins’ health problems might have been exacerbated by the oil exposure.
"They are at the top of the food chain in the Gulf, perhaps even more than we are, because they eat whole fish. They consume everything," said George Crozier, retired director of Dauphin Island Sea Lab in Alabama. "That creates a situation where they might be bio-accumulating any toxics in the food chain."
Because they breathe air, the dolphins also are likely to have inhaled toxic fumes and to have swum through oil.
The federation already ranked five species of endangered and threatened sea turtles that reproduce in the Gulf as poor. But the hundreds of dead turtles spotted during the spill raise new concerns, federation officials said.
The brown pelican, another very visible symbol of oil spill damage, was ranked good by the federation, although hundreds were killed by oil in the Gulf and coastal mangroves in which they nest, Inkley said.
Both Atlantic bluefin tuna and deepwater coral communities received poor rankings. The tuna already were overfished by commercial fishers, but their eggs and young may have been threatened by the oil spill.
Gulf Coast wetlands, especially in Louisiana, continue to garner a poor ranking, with oil from the spill is speeding the rate of wetland loss, Inkley said.
If there’s good news, it’s the “good” rating that the federation continues to bestow on Gulf shrimp species.
Inkley said data show the 2011 total shrimp catch in the Gulf may have been up significantly, in part due to the closure of much of the Gulf to commercial fishing in 2010.
But Inkley also warned that shrimp are heavily dependent on wetlands, and as “wetlands continue to degrade in the Gulf of Mexico, so too will shrimp face tougher times.”
On February 27, 2012, concerned citizens and LEAN members Dennis and Lori Bosarge collected samples of water and foam from the beach in Bayou La Batre, AL. While foam in general is a common and natural occurrence along the Gulf Coast; lately the dark color and persistence of the foam has been somewhat unusual according to some residents.
Laboratory analysis of the foam did confirm the presence of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons(PAH’s) including anthracene, naphthalenes, phenanthrene as well as many other PAH’s found in crude oil and consistent with those found in BP oil from the Macondo well site.
The graphs below compare two samples, one collected almost a year after the Gulf Oil Spill, and the other collected almost 2 years after. The top graph shows the chemical composition of a lab-fingerprinted “BP MC 252” oil sample from Louisiana collected by LEAN/LMRK in March 2011. The bottom graph shows the chemical makeup of the foam sample collected on February 27, 2012 in Bayou La Batre. The two graphs show a strikingly similar chemical makeup between the February 2012 sea foam sample and the March 2011 sample of BP fingerprinted oil.
arco Kaltofen, a civil engineer with Boston Chemical Data, has been providing technical assistance for LEAN since the Oil Spill began. Kaltofen notes, The data show that BP oil is still in the environment, two years later. The presence of such concentrated oil in sea foam is a sign of serious environmental damage.
The Gulf ecosystem, the fishing industry, and coastal communities have suffered greatly since the 2010 Oil Spill. Though a settlement looms, the struggles faced here seem far from over. Clear/honest information, direct support for struggling communities and ADEQUATE REMEDIATION is necessary for the recovery of the Gulf Coast and much like the oil still found on our shores, seems inadequately addressed some 2 years later.
February 27, 2012 ~
ROBERT DESMARAIS SULLIVAN (email@example.com or 757.642.8607)
WHAT: Funeral service and procession for Gulf of Mexico, recently murdered by BP, Transocean and Halliburton under suspicious circumstances. Several government agencies appear to have been accomplices after the fact. Signs and costumes are requested in honor of the deceased, who is survived by her ailing siblings, Mississippi River and Caribbean Sea.
WHEN: From 1:00 t0 4:00 on Wednesday, February 29, 2012, on the day designated by Occupy Portland for the nation to demand a democratic government be restored to the United States. The funeral procession is Occupy NOLA’s participation in this demand.
WHERE: Starting at BP headquarters, 1250 Poydras, the funeral procession carries the coffin seven blocks to the Federal Building, 500 Poydras. Elegies will be pronounced at both sites.
WHY: In the midst of the merriment of Carnival, it was easy to forget serious matters. That is of course why we do Carnival! It is good for the soul to forget troubles briefly, though the world continues to turn and the rains to fall and hurricanes to bluster and death to come. On Ash Wednesday, many of us go to work with smudges on our foreheads: ‘Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, remember, man, that you are dust and unto dust you will return.’ We now return to the ashes of the Deepwater Horizon.
On February 27, 2012, only five days after Mardi Gras, the most complex trial ever in New Orleans is supposed to begin, and BP, Transocean and Halliburton will hopefully be called into court for judgment on their various roles in the most disastrous industrial incident the State of Louisiana has ever known.
It was an incident because it was not an accident. The corporate principle of profit before people led to shortcuts and errors in exploration that killed eleven in the explosion and caused several subsequent deaths as a consequence of chemical poisoning, while leaving thousands ill and perhaps dying.
We do not know whether the trial will even take place, though it rightly should in order to reveal the roles of corporations and governments in the pain and suffering so widespread along the Gulf after the explosion. However, corporations have obscene quantities of money to purchase political and legal favors. As the film ‘The Big Fix’ says, Louisiana is a ‘colony of the petroleum industry’.
Josh Tickell, co-director of ‘The Big Fix’, grew up in Mandeville and knows a bit about Louisiana’s corruption, penetrating the state like kudzu ever since the 1940’s, when another movie,‘The Louisiana Story’, was filmed as petroleum-industry propaganda here. Tickell’s co-director and wife, Rebecca, is herself suffering from chemical poisoning, contracted while filming ‘The Big Fix’. Not in competition at Cannes this year, the film was given a standing ovation in special showing there. Once the First Unitarian Universalist Church of New Orleans has a copy, it will be shown multiple times.
In June of 2011, as if to prove the thesis of ‘The Big Fix’, both houses of the Louisiana legislature revealed appalling collusion with the petrochemical industry by defeating a Senate bill to outlaw the poisonous Corexit and a House bill to inform Gulf residents of their rights in claiming compensation. Oil-company lobbyists were seen at private parties with legislators after the votes, high-fiving and drinking in great merriment. I was in the Capitol and could not believe that my friends in the legislature were actually voting against our own people. Let us name with special honor the sponsors of these bills: Sen. Crowe of Slidell and Rep. Connick of Marrero.
As colonists on the plantation, we have allowed ourselves to become accustomed to “mastuhs” telling us what to do as though we were slaves. No doubt we will see the corporations try to purchase a pre-trial settlement before February 27, to leave themselves enriched and the people of the Gulf impoverished, incapable of sustaining their traditional lifestyles, incapable of living on the Gulf, perhaps even incapable of living.
The President, the governors, and authoritative agencies have said the oil is gone, the beaches are clean and the seafood is safe to eat. Not all of us trust authorities. We do not trust them because they have lost our trust by so many lies.
The NOAA and the FDA have stated that the seafood is safe. We all want to believe them, especially those along the Coast and in the tourist industry, including my family and friends. At the same time, I will not eat Gulf seafood until I am satisfied with the test results, and I am not satisfied. It grieves me to state that, and it is additional cause to mourn. It is another manifestation of the death of the Gulf.
For these reasons, we have planned a funeral for the Gulf as symbolic rebellion. It will take place Wednesday, February 29, from 1:00 to 4:00pm. We invite you all to meet in front of BP headquarters at 1250 Poydras Street to hear from Louisianians impacted by the disaster, then to march to the Federal Building at 500 Poydras. We will carry a coffin and wear costumes according to each person’s Carnival whims. I plan to wear a ‘V for Vendetta’ mask and a business suit, and I will carry the Cajun flag.
Given that actual rebellions, even those as peaceful as the Occupations, are always mocked by corporations and viciously suppressed by their lackey police and politicians, we suspect the world’s movers-and-shakers will not change their ways just yet. Still, let us recall that the abolition of slavery in the Western world began in London two hundred years before the movement achieved its goals. We are today’s Abolitionists of unregulated carbon-product exploitation!
The Cajun flag I will carry to mourn the pain and suffering of the Gulf Coast and its people, so many of them living in small French communities for over 200 years. Alongside them have been other cultural communities, all thriving in the bounty of a healthy Gulf. Now it is appropriate for all Louisianians to mourn in ceremonial rebellion because nregulated exploitation has killed the Gulf. We hope for resurrection, but it is appropriate at the present time first of all to mourn that men in powerful positions have cared so little and even now continue their dangerous refusal to treat either dead or living with respect.
So come, wear your costumes, carry your signs, and mourn! For further information, contact Elizabeth Cook (firstname.lastname@example.org or 504.231.8789) or Mike Howells (email@example.com 504.5870080) or me.
by Robert Verchick ~ LEAN: Louisiana Environmental Action Network & Lower Mississippi Riverkeeper
Well, another magnificent Mardi Gras has ended, and at this point, I’d normally be slouched on the sofa sipping a tomato juice (neat) and sorting beads. But not this year. That’s because next week, squadrons of lawyers, journalists, petroleum engineers, and fisher folk are scheduled to descend on New Orleans, squeeze into a federal courtroom, and begin on Monday what the media have modestly called, “The Trial of the Century,” otherwise known as the BP Oil Spill litigation.
Whatever the rest of the century holds, it seems fair to say that this legal dispute, if it does not settle, will be the most complicated environmental trial anyone has ever seen. With a thousand plaintiffs, a galaxy of witnesses, and 20,000 exhibits, this spectacular has more moving parts than a Madonna half-time show. As the trial unfolds, I’ll provide you with some occasional shrimp-boots-on-the-ground legal blogging.
First, though, I’ll start with the background of the case (please see also two CPR white papers: Regulatory Blowout: How Regulatory Failures Made the BP Disaster Possible, and How the System Can Be Fixed to Avoid a Recurrence (Oct 2010) and The BP Catastrophe: When Hobbled Law and Hollow Regulation Leave Americans Unprotected (Jan 2011)). Here are some answers to common questions.
Q: Can you remind me what the BP Oil Spill was all about? I remember “Top Kill” and “I’d like my life back,” but the rest of it is a little hazy.
A: On April 20, 2010 BP and its contractors were in the last stages of drilling a three-mile long hole in the seabed fifty miles off the Louisiana shore. They were in the process of plugging the hole, with plans to later extract oil from the massive reservoir that lay below. The oil rig was called “Deepwater Horizon.” The well was called “Macondo” (yes, the same name as the fictional village in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude-the village that was eventually blown apart by an apocalyptic storm and erased from history. This is what lit teachers call “foreshadowing”).
The project had not gone smoothly, and already operations were a month late and $40 million overdue. At 9:30 that night, the well started burping methane gas. The gas shot up through the pipes, caught fire, and engulfed the rig in flames. Eleven of the 126 people aboard died and many more were injured. Two days later the rig sank and oil began spewing from the wellhead, roughly a mile below the surface. BP applied thousands of gallons of toxic dispersants on and below the surface in an effort to prevent the oil from coming ashore. Even so, the oil severely damaged beaches, estuaries, and marshes, from Texas to Florida. Large swaths of the Gulf were closed to fishing.
As President Obama said two months after the blowout: “Already this oil spill is the worst environmental disaster America has ever faced.” Earlier, BP’s then-chief executive Tony Hayward invited public vilification when, in an inexplicable burst of self-pity, he whined, “I’d like my life back.” Despite efforts to cap the well (including the so-called “Top Kill” method), oil continued to spew until July 15, 2010 when BP successfully capped the well and later sealed it with cement. According to some estimates, nearly five million barrels of oil billowed into the Gulf before it was capped.
Q: What did later investigations show?
A: We’ve learned quite a bit from media reports, industry incident reports, a presidential commission, an examination by the Coast Guard and the Department of Interior, and a report from the National Academy of Engineering.
Basically, we know that before the blowout BP used cheaper and quicker methods for building the well’s walls, misread important diagnostic tests, and removed the most important protective barrier to methane bursts before it should have. We also know there were problems with a cement mixture that Halliburton had supplied and that employees of Transocean made some bad decisions when they realized the rig was going to blow.
Q: So that explains the lawsuit. Who’s suing?
A: The trial in New Orleans-officially called “Multi-District Litigation-2179” (MDL)-consolidates 535 lawsuits originally filed all over the country. More than 110,000 individuals and businesses have filed notice to take part in the MDL. Plaintiffs include fishers, seafood processors, restaurants, coastal landowners, individuals who were harmed by dispersants or oil, and many others. The litigation also includes claims by the federal government, Gulf Coast states, and a few municipalities. Several states in Mexico have also filed claims. The federal and state government claims generally seek compensation for natural resource damage, response costs, or damage to their economies.
Many of these plaintiffs are at the same time trying to resolve their grievances through BP’s Gulf Coast Claims Facility (GCCF), a $20 billion compensation fund administered by Kenneth Feinberg. Plaintiffs who reach a final settlement with the GCCF waive their claims and must withdraw from the MDL.
This trial does not address shareholder suits (which will be handled in Houston) or criminal charges.
Q: Who are the defendants?
A: The most prominent defendants are BP, which held the lease on the Macondo well; Transocean, which owned Deepwater Horizon; Halliburton, which poured the cement lining into the well; Cameron, which manufactured the blowout-preventer that malfunctioned during the crisis; and Nalco, which manufactured the dispersants that are alleged to have made people sick and to have harmed the environment. In later stages of the litigation, the federal government and some states may be required to defend their actions in overseeing containment of the oil and clean-up operations.
Q: What issues will the court decide?
A: For all its complexity, the goal of the trial is pretty simple: to determine the proportion of fault among the defendant companies and to determine the extent of penalties and damages. These questions will be decided in a bench trial (without a jury) by federal district court judge Carl Barbier. In reaching his decision, he will rely on federal maritime law, the Clean Water Act, the Oil Pollution Act, and the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act. (The state law claims have all been dismissed as preempted by federal law.)
The allocation of fault, will, of course, affect the share that each defendant must pay. But that amount also depends on the degree of carelessness the court attributes to the parties. For instance, a finding of gross negligence or willful misconduct could result in punitive damages, driving the verdict from a few billion to more than $20 billion. An award on the higher side could go far in helping a state like Louisiana (which suffered the most damage) to restore its tattered coast and repair its economy. But such an award would almost certainly be appealed.
Q: Tell me more about Judge Barbier.
A: Judge Carl Barbier has served on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana since 1998. He is a Clinton appointee. Judge Barbier was born in New Orleans and holds a law degree from Loyola University New Orleans. He is known for his expertise in maritime law and complex litigation. Over the last year, he has impressed observers with his efficiency and endurance, wrestling hundreds of cases to the ground and consolidating them into this litigation.
Q: How long will this trial take?
A: If it does not settle, it will take more than a year. Judge Barbier has planned the trial to unfold in three phases. The first phase, beginning on Monday, will deal with everything leading up to the explosion and the start of the oil leak. The second phase, scheduled to begin in mid-July, will focus on attempts to stem the flow of oil, inquiring into the crucial question of how much oil was ultimately discharged into the Gulf (a fact that affects the amount of penalties under the Clean Water Act). The third phase, which is not yet scheduled, will deal with the efforts to contain and clean up the oil.
Q: You’ve mentioned settlement twice. Will this case settle soon?
A: Honestly, nobody knows. Many of the traditional experts (experienced trial lawyers and legal scholars) say it should. With such uncertainty about the punitive damages, the argument goes, both sides have strong incentives to find middle ground. Plus, BP cannot be looking forward to seeing its dirty laundry aired out in court. But some local attorneys I’ve spoken to emphasize that individual personalities matter a lot in settlement negotiations and that with so many people involved, negotiations can easily derail.
Q: I missed Mardi Gras this year, should I make plans to visit New Orleans to see the trial instead?
A: No. The courtroom will be completely packed with lawyers and journalists. There is only a small amount of seating available to the public on a first-come, first-served basis. Everyone else will have to watch the trial on video from “overflow rooms.” My crack research assistant Stephen Wussow will occasionally visit the proceedings and report back. I’ve already warned him to bring lots of water and protein bars.
Q: Did Tony Hayward ever get his life back?
A: Sort of. The former geologist and yachting-enthusiast left BP in October 2010 and now works for Glencore International, a commodities company involved in hardrock mining. Mr. Hayward oversees policy related to environment and safety.
Robert Verchick, Gauthier-St. Martin Chair in Environmental Law, Loyola University, New Orleans.
January 31, 2012 ~ By Cain Burdeau, Associated Press
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A federal judge has ruled that Halliburton, the Houston-based company that supplied cement for the ill-fated Macondo well that blew in the Gulf of Mexico, may not have to pay many of the pollution claims that resulted from the catastrophic spill because it was shielded in a contract with well-owner BP.
Still, U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier said Tuesday that Halliburton is not exempt from paying punitive damages and civil penalties that arise from the April 20, 2010, blowout off the Louisiana coast. Those penalties could amount to billions of dollars.
The judge also said Halliburton’s indemnity could be voided if the company is found to have defrauded BP. He did not rule on BP’s allegations that Halliburton committed fraud by declaring the cement safe to use.
January 30, 2012 ~ by Benjamin Aexander-Bloch, The Times-Picayune
Gulf of Mexico shrimp, along with all seafood, has been tested extensively to assure that it’s safe for consumption in the wake of the BP oil spill, but the long-term effects on fish species from that oil, and the chemicals used to fight it, are still largely unknown. Possible effects on the growth and mortality of Gulf shrimp could come from a variety of factors, including alterations in the food they eat or the species who prey on them, changes in the marsh they inhabit, or changes in their own biology.
Hanging ominously over the Gulf studies is the specter of the collapse of the Pacific herring fishery in Alaska’s Prince William Sound in 1993, four years after the Exxon-Valdez oil spill. In part, that threat looms because the scientific community never made a conclusive determination about what caused that decline and whether that oil spill was the driver, or whether perhaps a virus or fungal infection played a major role.
While the Exxon-Valdez spill occurred during the herring spawning season and BP’s Macondo well began spewing around the white shrimp spawning season, the difference is that herring spawn at the age of 4, whereas shrimp are an annual crop, spawning each year and living only about a year. So, presumably a quicker decline would be seen in shrimp.
Last fall, LSU released a study showing that the Gulf killifish, a marsh minnow known locally as cocahoe, showed signs of hydrocarbon poisoning. But Andrew Whitehead, lead author of the study, made clear that the species would have to be monitored for several more years to know whether it would affect the species’ reproduction and population levels.
charts-shrimp-012912.jpgView full size
He also noted that his study held no implications for the safety of eating Gulf seafood because the levels that affect the tiny cocahoe are much too low to affect humans.
The federal Natural Resource Damage Assessment, or NRDA, is looking at some of the BP spill’s potential effect on shrimp. BP has pledged to spend $1 billion on “early restoration” projects, with Louisiana in line to get $200 million, but the company and other parties responsible for the spill may eventually have to spend as much as $20 billion on natural resource projects.
The state is conducting toxicity testing to evaluate survival, reproduction, growth and disease responses of representative Gulf species to the BP oil and dispersants, but those tests are part of the non-cooperative work plans, so the state is keeping the work confidential.
Another study approved by the state and BP is examining Louisiana marsh oiling. Of 123 sample sites, the study described 66 marsh sites in Louisiana in the fall of 2010 as having received heavy oiling, 42 as receiving moderate, light or very light oiling, and 15 areas as receiving no oiling.
Then there are ongoing studies exploring potential oil affects on the spawning stocks of species that rely on marshes for nursery habitat, and on the state of the food shrimp eat during their growth stages.
In addition, the Gulf Research Initiative is funding $500 million worth of environmental studies in the Gulf of Mexico. One such study looks at potential oil spill effects on the mortality, development and growth of the larval, juvenile and adult stages of three Gulf species, including white shrimp.
Steve Murawski, a University of South Florida oceanographer, and a colleague earlier this month gave a presentation in Florida discussing fish they’d found with skin lesions in the Gulf last summer, many of them in areas where oil had been present. Murawski conditioned his findings though, saying that areas where fish with lesions were found also might have had natural oil seeps, leaky pipelines or rigs unrelated to the BP spill.
"It’s complicated and I’m unwilling to point a finger at anyone until I have pretty clear answers," said Murawski, who served as NOAA’s chief fisheries scientist from 2004 until 2010.
One of the main problems is there isn’t much pre-spill data. For example, Murawski admitted that the rate of fish skin lesions before the spill isn’t documented. At least, he said, his study will provide an assessment of the current health that will help determine a threshold for future assessments in case of disasters down the line.
Skin lesions are nothing new in the Gulf. In 2009, fish with lesions began showing up at higher rates in Alabama’s Mobile Bay, and an evaluation by the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and Auburn University determined the lesions likely were caused by a sudden surge of fresh water from earlier flash floods, and temperature changes.
Jan. 12, 2012- Mark Schleifstein, The Times-Picayune
BP’s chief environmental scientist assigned to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on Thursday said the company, working with state and federal trustees, remains on a fast pace aimed at restoring resources damaged during the 2010 spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Briefing reporters by phone in advance of a month-long series of hearings on proposed “early restoration projects” along the Gulf Coast, Robin Bullock said the formal Natural Resource Damage Assessment process required under federal law has developed “the largest set of environmental data at one point in time associated with an oil spill incident within the Gulf of Mexico.”
Hundreds of scientists — from universities, federal agencies and hired by BP — have gathered data on the status of Gulf resources before the spill, and the potential for resource damage from the estimated 5 million barrels of oil that gushed from BP’s Macondo well. That information was used to develop projects to restore natural resources and compensate the public for the use of those lost resources.
The hearings will focus on the first eight projects proposed in December by states’ trustees and BP, which total $57 million for the Gulf Coast and includes $28 million for Louisiana projects. BP has pledged to spend $1 billion on “early restoration” projects, but the company and other parties responsible for the spill may eventually have to spend as much as $20 billion on natural resource projects.
The first two Louisiana projects will build more than 100 acres of wetlands in Plaquemines Parish, place oyster cultch on six public seed beds in several parishes and upgrade an oyster hatchery on Grand Isle.
The projects were approved by a committee of trustees representing the five Gulf Coast states, the federal departments of Interior and Commerce and BP. Under the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, the trustees and the parties responsible for the spill are required to cooperatively complete the damage assessment process.
The early projects are driven by the early lessons learned by scientists, Bullock said.
"We knew a few things about the injuries very quickly," she said, including the effects on recreational fishers by the closure of wide swaths of the Gulf to fishing, and to tourists by beach closures.
The $4.4 million proposed for building boat ramps and $600,000 for coastal dunes in Florida is aimed at compensating for such lost recreational opportunities.
"On the ecological side, we do know that oil reached the shorelines," Bullock said. "We do know that we did have some mortality associated with birds, some mortality associated with turtles," and projects aimed at restoring near-shore environments would compensate for their losses, she said.
Louisiana’s projects fall into the resource restoration category, as do the $11 million for oyster cultch and $2.6 million for an artificial reef in Mississippi and the $9.4 million for marsh creation and $1.1 million for coastal dune improvements in Alabama.
Louisiana’s first two projects are part of a $533 million list of 13 projects that it proposed in July for a share of BP’s early restoration money, said Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority chairman Garret Graves, who acts as Louisiana’s trustee in the damage assessment process.
Louisiana is supposed to get $100 million of the first $1 billion, but hopes some of the projects could be paid for with shares of the BP money provided that will go to the Commerce and Interior departments.
Bullock and Graves could not say when additional projects will be announced, but the agreement signed by trustees and BP set a goal of beginning construction of projects by the end of 2012, Graves said.
"The intent of Louisiana is to stick to that time frame," Graves said.
Public comments are being accepted on the first list of projects through Feb. 14, including on the web at http://losco-dwh.com/EarlyRestorationPlanComment.aspx . Recommendations for future projects also will be accepted.
In Louisiana, state officials will hold three public meetings to discuss the projects, each beginning at 5:30 p.m., with a public hearing at 6:30 p.m.:
Jan. 31, Terrebonne Council Chambers, 8026 Main St., second floor, Houma.
Feb. 1, St. Bernard Parish Council Chambers, 8201 West Judge Perez Drive, Chalmette.
Feb.. 2, Belle Chasse Auditorium, 8398 Louisiana 23, Belle Chasse.