Archive for BP Oil Disaster

Five years after oil spill, boat trips to Barataria Bay reveal tar balls, dying islands

April 1, 2015 | Posted by Elizabeth Van Cleve in BP Oil Disaster, Meetings/Events

Sadly, this is not an April Fools joke.

Nearly five years after the BP Gulf oil disaster, we took a trip to Louisiana's Barataria Bay to see the continuing and ongoing environmental effects of the spill. Representatives from Environmental Defense Fund, National Wildlife Federation, National Audubon Society, Louisiana Wildlife Federation and Restore or Retreat organized a boat tour for local and national media to see for themselves the continued negative effects of the spill and the dire need for restoration.

David Muth with the National Wildlife Federation gives an overview of the tour at the Myrtle Grove Marina.

David Muth with the National Wildlife Federation gives an overview of the tour at the Myrtle Grove Marina.

Launching off from the Myrtle Grove Marina 25 miles south of New Orleans, our flotilla traveled south into Barataria Bay, which was one of the most heavily oiled areas during the spill. Five years later, the effects of the oil disaster are still visible.

Boats head out into Louisiana's Barataria Bay.

Boats head out into Louisiana's Barataria Bay.

The first stop of our tour was East Grand Terre Island, where just two weeks ago, crews uncovered a 25,000-pound BP tar mat on the island. Yesterday, five years after the oil spill, we still found tar mats and tar balls on East Grand Terre.

A tar ball on East Grand Terre Island, Louisiana (March 31, 2015).

A tar ball on East Grand Terre Island, Louisiana (March 31, 2015).

Next, we traveled to Cat Island, a mangrove island in Barataria Bay that was heavily oiled during the spill. Once a lush, thriving bird rookery, teeming with pelicans, rosette spoonbills, least terns and others, the island is now a skeleton of its former self: small, gray and lifeless. The mangroves that once dominated the island are sensitive to oil, which in turn killed the mangroves and caused the island to erode and slowly vanish. Observers noted that this may be the last year that we see Cat Island, as it may be completely gone by this time next year.

Once a lush, thriving mangrove island, Cat Island now small, gray and lifeless.

Once a lush, thriving mangrove island, Cat Island now small, gray and lifeless.

The final stop on our tour was the Lake Hermitage Marsh Creation project, which is some of the newest land in Louisiana. This project uses sand dredged from the Mississippi River to build marsh. It’s being funded through the Coastal Wetland Planning, Protection and Restoration Act (CWPPRA) and the early Natural Resource Damage Assessment funding. This project has restored 650 acres at the cost of $50 million.

Lake Hermitage Marsh Creation project

Lake Hermitage Marsh Creation project

Despite what BP claims, we saw evidence showing that the oil spill is not over and its effects are ongoing. Tar mats and tar balls are still washing ashore, and islands and marsh are still in need of repair and restoration. Five years later, BP needs to accept responsibility and “make it right” for the communities, environment and wildlife of the Gulf Coast.

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Five Years Later: Gulf Oil Disaster’s Impacts to Habitat and Wildlife Still Evident

March 31, 2015 | Posted by Elizabeth Van Cleve in Birds, BP Oil Disaster, Clean Water Act, Media Resources, RESTORE Act, Science, Wildlife


Emily Guidry Schatzel, National Wildlife Federation, 225.253.9781,
Jacques Hebert, National Audubon Society, 504.264.6849,
Elizabeth Van Cleve, Environmental Defense Fund, 202.553.2543,

Five Years Later: Gulf Oil Disaster’s Impacts to Habitat and Wildlife Still Evident

Leading Conservation Groups Highlight BP Spill’s Ongoing Effects, Continued Need for Restoration

(New Orleans, LA—March 31, 2015) Five years after the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded, killing 11 men and spewing at least 3.19 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, leading national and local conservation organizations working on Mississippi River Delta and Gulf Coast restoration – Environmental Defense FundNational Audubon SocietyNational Wildlife Federation and Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation – released the following statement:

“Despite BP’s claims that the Gulf oil disaster and its ecological impacts are over, ongoing research and present-day observations in areas that were heavily oiled tell a different story.

“New independent scientific studies provide evidence that the full consequences of the spill to wildlife and habitats are still unfolding. From dolphins to sea turtles to birds, we still are seeing the real and lasting environmental impacts of one of the worst oil spills in our nation’s history.

“BP claims the nearly 134 million gallons of oil spilled into the Gulf has not negatively affected the ecosystem. But continued surveillance of areas like Barataria Bay, where thick oil coated vital wildlife habitat, including marshes and barrier islands, reveals lasting effects of the spill. Cat Island, a mangrove island that was heavily oiled, was once a lush, thriving rookery for brown pelicans and other birds, but today it is gray, lifeless and has nearly disappeared. Other coastal areas damaged by the spill are also still in need of repair.

“To this day, oil is still being found, most recently in the form of a 25,000-pound tar mat located on a Louisiana barrier island, near where 40,000 pounds of BP-oiled material was unearthed two years ago. It’s time for BP to put the publicity campaign aside, stop shirking responsibility and finally ‘make it right’ for the people, wildlife and habitats of the Gulf Coast.

“The oil disaster wreaked incomparable damage to an already-stressed Gulf Coast ecosystem. In Louisiana, the oil spill dealt another blow to an area ravaged by land loss – since the 1930s, Louisiana has lost nearly 1,900 square miles of land, or an area the size of Delaware. Nowhere is restoration more needed than the Mississippi River Delta, which is the cornerstone of a healthy Gulf ecosystem.

“Restoration solutions are within reach and plans are in place, but implementation of restoration plans cannot fully begin until BP accepts responsibility and pays its fines. Thanks to vehicles like Louisiana’s Coastal Master Plan and the historic RESTORE Act of 2012, which ensures that the Clean Water Act fines BP pays will be used for restoration, the Gulf Coast can make headway on real restoration projects that can make a difference. We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to restore the health of our wetlands, revive Gulf Coast economies that depend on them, and make the Gulf Coast better than it was before the spill, but we must begin restoration now. The Gulf Coast – and the people, wildlife and jobs that depend on it – cannot wait any longer.”


Since the BP oil disaster five years ago, ongoing findings deliver truths omitted by BP’s ads: the oil disaster’s negative effects are increasingly clear, present and far from resolved.

A new infographic depicts ongoing impacts of the Gulf oil disaster five years later. And over the past year alone, new scientific research has surfaced:

  • A 2014 study found evidence of a 1,250-square-mile area of oil contamination on the ocean floor around the Macondo wellhead in deep Gulf sediments.
  • A new NOAA study found a large number of dead dolphins in heavily oiled places, including Barataria Bay, La.
  • Recent studies estimate 800,000 birds died as a result of being exposed to BP oil.
  • Modeling for a recent stock assessment projected that between 20,000 and 60,000 Kemp’s ridley sea turtles died in 2010 as a result of the spill.
  • A 2014 study found concentrations of PAH (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon) – which can cause harmful effects in many birds, fish and wildlife – in Barataria and Terrebonne marshes, which may persist for decades.
  • A 2012 study found that oiled marshes in Barataria Bay eroded at double the rate of non-oiled marshes.


David Muth

David Muth of the National Wildlife Federation on a tour of Barataria Bay, La. March 31, 2015.

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Gulf Oil Disaster: 5 Years Later Infographic

| Posted by Ryan Rastegar in BP Oil Disaster

It's been nearly five years since the start of the BP oil disaster, and the negative effects are still being felt. New research conducted over the last few years indicates that the Gulf will likely take years, even decades, to recover. Below is a look at some of the unfortunate side effects that are still plaguing the Gulf today.

Gulf Oil Disaster: 5 Years Later Infographic

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Scientists look to food webs for better understanding of oil spill effects

March 23, 2015 | Posted by lbourg in BP Oil Disaster, Science, Wildlife

By Matthew Phillips, National Wildlife Federation

When trying to understand how ecosystems function, scientists often look at food webs–the complex relationships between animals, insects, plants, and bacteria that govern who eats whom.

Food webs in the Gulf of Mexico are as complex as they come. The different habitat types, from forests to wetlands to ocean, mean a diverse array of species. The Gulf food web would be nearly impossible to understand in its entirety, but we can simplify it into a chain to help us think about it. Plants form the base of this chain, as they convert sunlight into the energy that fuels the entire system. Plants are eaten by herbivores, who are then eaten by larger organisms. Scientists can learn a lot about how an ecosystem functions by studying the ends of the chain–the plants at the bottom and the animals that occupy the top. However, it’s the species in the middle that provide crucial linkages.

Oiled marsh

Oiled marsh

One recent study, “Disturbance and recovery of salt marsh arthropod communities following BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill” assessed how arthropods living in the Gulf wetlands responded to the BP oil spill. Arthropods are an enormous group of organisms, including insects, spiders, crabs, crustaceans, and just about anything else with a hard outer shell that lacks a vertebral column. The authors looked at the heart of the food chain: the huge number of arthropod species that provide links between fish, birds, and other animals. If the oil spill affected these populations, they reasoned, the effects would ripple through the rest of ecosystem, causing unpredictable damage.

They measured the density of arthropod populations in patches of Spartina alterniflora, a grass that dominates Gulf coast marshes, while oil was washing up on marsh shoreline in 2010 and again one year later. For comparison, they visited 12 marshes with oil and 10 with no oil. They ensured the vegetation and soil were similar in each location to negate any differences between habitat types.

Their results were both striking and hopeful. During 2010, they found half as many arthropods in the marshes that had oil as in those with no oil. Because birds, fish, and even plants depend on these organisms, losing half the population could potentially devastate the ecosystem. But by 2011 arthropods in the oiled marshes were back at the same densities as in the unoiled marshes. It seemed that arthropods were primarily susceptible to the direct effects of oil. Oil may remain in wetlands for decades after a spill, but it usually seeps into the soils under the marsh grass. The arthropods in this study lived in the grasses above the marsh surface. Once the oil disappeared into the soil, their populations returned to normal.

This study presents a more important conclusion than simply the resilience of arthropods to oil. Ecosystems are intricate webs of interactions between the living and non-living environment, and looking at one organism, relationship, or phenomenon may not reveal any significant truth about the ecosystem as a whole. Except for a thin sheen of oil, the marshes in this study appeared healthy. But, in fact, oil had wiped out half the arthropods. We should treat ecosystems as the fragile, profoundly complex systems they are. Protecting them should be the top priority. Any disturbance can have widespread and unpredictable consequences.

To learn more about our coalition and the plans to restore our marshes and wetlands, click here.  More information about the ongoing effects of the BP oil spill can be found here:  "Understanding effects of chemical dispersants on marine wildlife is critical to whale population" and  "Five years later, scientists gather to assess ongoing impact of BP oil spill."

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Five Years After the Oil Spill, Dead Dolphins and 25,000-Pound Tar Mat Found

March 18, 2015 | Posted by lbourg in Birds, BP Oil Disaster, Science, Wildlife

This was originally posted on the National Wildlife Federation's Wildlife Promise blog.
By Emily Guidry Schatzel, National Wildlife Federation

One day after BP released a report saying the Gulf is on the road to recovery, we took a trip to one of the most impacted areas from the BP oil spill—Barataria Bay, Louisiana. From a dead baby dolphin to devastation at a bird rookery to active clean-up crews removing tons of oil from barrier islands, we found a very different picture from what BP painted in its report.

We started the day off at Cat Island. Once a vibrant barrier island covered in brown pelicans, roseate spoonbills, terns and gulls, it was hit hard by the oil during the spill. Today, the island is unrecognizable. The thick mangrove forests are all dead and the island is essentially a small spit of mud with the skeletal remains of vegetation, hosting just a handful of birds. Coastal Louisiana is already losing a football field of land every hour, and studies show that the oil accelerated this erosion.

cat island before after

Cat Island 2010 and 2015. Photo: NWF

Next we went to East Grand Terre, a nearby barrier island. Roughly 20 workers were out there cleaning up oil. BP confirmed this latest clean-up was part of a process to remove a 25,000-pound tar mat found in late February 2015. Finding oil here is not a huge surprise–two years ago, a 40,000 pound tar mat was found in the same area.

BP cleanup March 2015

BP cleanup March 2015. Photo: NWF.

Even worse, in that same area, we also saw a mother dolphin attempting to resuscitate her dead infant. She was surrounded by a group of dolphins–all of them visibly in distress. Such a tragic sight was difficult to witness.

Dead dolphin

Mama dolphin and her dead baby. Photo: NWF

On the same day, The Lens reported that two dead adult bottlenose dolphins washed up on nearby Queen Bess Island.

We don’t know why these particular dolphins died. But we do know that NOAA has determined bottlenose dolphins in this area of Barataria Bay are sick—very sick. They have symptoms of oil exposure—unusual lung masses, adrenal gland problems, even teeth that are falling out. Based on the study, NOAA concluded that “the health effects seen in the Barataria Bay dolphins are significant and likely will lead to reduced survival and ability to reproduce.”

We also know that dolphin deaths in Louisiana remain four times higher than average. And that high numbers of stillborn and premature dolphins have been found in the northern Gulf every spring since 2010.


10 Things BP’s New Report Doesn’t Tell You

March 17, 2015 | Posted by lbourg in BP Oil Disaster, Reports, Science, Wildlife

This was originally posted on the National Wildlife Federation's Wildlife Promise blog.
By Ryan Fikes, National Wildlife Federation

BP has just released a new report on the state of the Gulf, called Gulf of Mexico: Environmental Recovery and Restoration. The glossy report is filled with footnotes and citations, but leaves key pieces of science out.

Here are ten important things BP’s latest report strategically didn’t mention:

  • Dolphins died before the spill – from freshwater

The report says: “An “unusual mortality event” (UME) involving an abnormally high number of dolphin deaths in the Gulf of Mexico began in February 2010, months before the Deepwater Horizon accident.”
What it leaves out: The deaths of a cluster of dolphins during the months before the Deepwater Horizon exploded were likely caused by extended exposure to fresh water and unusually cold weather. (Source: NOAA)

  • Gulf dolphins are now very susceptible to an old disease

The report says: “NOAA has said that brucella, a bacterium that can infect animals, is “a common thread” in a number of the animals examined. Nearly one-third of the dolphins tested as of Nov. 25, 2014 were positive for brucella.”
What it leaves out: In 2011, Teri Rowles, the coordinator of NOAA’s National Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program said, “Severe environmental stress, including from exposure to oil, could have reduced the animals’ ability to fight infection.”(Source: NOAA)
And in 2013, NOAA released a study showing that dolphins in heavily-oiled Barataria Bay had adrenal gland problems consistent with oil exposure that would in fact harm their ability to fight infections.(Source: Environmental Science & Technology)

  • For the Kemp's ridley, anything less than an increase is a decrease

    Oiled sea turtle after the BP oil disaster. Photo credit:  NOAA.

    Oiled sea turtle after the BP oil disaster. Photo credit: NOAA.

The report says: “For Kemp’s ridley sea turtles, nesting numbers the two years after the accident were above historical averages.”
What it leaves out: Up until 2009, Kemp’s ridley nests were increasing exponentially (15-19%) every year. In 2011 and 2012, the number of Kemp’s ridley nests—while essentially the same as the

numbers seen in 2009—were still below expectations. Even more troubling are the significant decreases in nests seen in 2010, 2013, and 2014. (Source: Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission)

  • Sperm whales in the Gulf have high levels of toxic metals

The report says: “While data analysis is ongoing, BP has not seen any evidence indicating that oil or dispersant compounds from the Deepwater Horizon accident have impacted the health of whales in the Gulf.”
What it leaves out: Researchers have found higher levels of DNA-damaging metals such as chromium and nickel in sperm whales in the Gulf of Mexico compared to sperm whales elsewhere in the world. (Source: Environmental Science & Technology)
And a recent study found that the two dispersants used in the Deepwater Horizon spill—Corexit 9500 and 9527—were both found to be damaging to sperm whale cells and DNA. (Source: Aquatic Toxicology)

  • Oil exposure damages fish development – in many species

The report says: “A study by university and government researchers examined the overlap between spawning habitat and oiled waters and concluded that the spawning area for bluefin tuna extended much farther west than previously known and that “the proportion of spawning habitat impacted by oil was generally predicted to be small (<10%).”
What it leaves out: Estimates vary on how many larval bluefin tuna may have been exposed. One NOAA study estimated that the figure could be as high as 20 percent. (Source: NOAA)
And a recent comprehensive laboratory study found that a chemical in Deepwater Horizon oil can cause irregular heartbeats in bluefin and yellowfin tuna that can lead to heart attacks, or even death. The resulting heartbeat changes significantly altered the development of other organs. The researchers suggest that many other vertebrate species in the Gulf could have been similarly affected. (Source: Science) 

  • Right after the spill, red snapper and other fish had unusual lesions

The report says: Researchers from the University of South Alabama and Dauphin Island Sea Lab in Alabama took samples of reef fish from the Alabama and western Florida Panhandle coasts from January 2010 to June 2011. They found no significant evidence of diseased fish in those populations.”
What it leaves out: In the aftermath of the spill, a number of fish caught in the Gulf between eastern Louisiana and western Florida had unusual lesions or rotting fins. Lesions were most common in bottom-dwelling species, including red snapper, and were particularly common north of the wellhead. (Source: Transactions of the American Fisheries Society)

  • An unusual lack of young red snapper

The report says: “In an Auburn University study published in 2014, researchers found no evidence that the spill affected young red snapper populations on reefs off the Alabama coast.”
What it leaves out: Both 2010 and 2011 had the lowest numbers of juvenile red snapper seen in the eastern Gulf fishery since 1994. (Source: NOAA SEDAR)

  • Seaside sparrows on oiled sites less likely to fledge

The report says: “Data from studies that BP conducted independently indicate that in 2011, the spill did not adversely impact bird productivity – how successful birds are at producing offspring. Brown pelicans, laughing gulls, great egrets, black skimmers, bald eagles and ospreys were studied. 
What it leaves out: Preliminary data from 2012 and 2013 indicate that seaside sparrows from nests on unoiled sites were significantly more likely to fledge than those on oiled sites.. (Source: BioScience)

  • Oil is still washing up on beaches

The report says: Since some of the heavily oiled areas were last surveyed a year or two earlier, NRDA teams resurveyed the areas in 2014 and determined that a total of just one mile remained heavily oiled.”
What it leaves out: Recent studies of beach shoreline in Alabama suggest that tar balls are likely to continue washing up for years to come on Gulf Coast beaches, and could pose a risk to organisms living on or near those beaches. (Source: Science of the Total Environment)

  • Oil remains in Louisiana's coastal marshes

oil_spillThe report says: A 2012 University of Florida study that measured the rate of marsh erosion in a limited geographic area in Louisiana showed that erosion rates returned to normal 18 months after the spill and that its impact was generally limited to the edge of the marshes.”
What it leaves out: In May 2013, three years after the spill, more than 80 miles of marsh shoreline in Louisiana remained visibly oiled. The long-term effects of the oiling of Gulf marshes are still unclear and may take decades to unfold. (Source: International Oil Spill Conference)


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Understanding effects of chemical dispersants on marine wildlife is critical to whale population

March 5, 2015 | Posted by lbourg in BP Oil Disaster, Science, Wildlife

By Matthew Phillips, National Wildlife Federation

During and after the 2010 BP oil spill, clean-up crews relied heavily on chemical dispersants to break up oil slicks in the Gulf of Mexico. In total, crews used more than 2 million gallons of dispersants, namely Corexit 9500 and 9527, applying them directly to the head of the leaking well and over the surface waters of the Gulf. Dispersants break down oil into small droplets that easily mix with water and, in theory, biodegrade quickly. The intention is to reduce the amount of oil in an area, dispersing it throughout the water column. While debate continues over the efficacy of dispersants in cleaning up spills, their use continues to rise, despite little data on their suspected toxicity. For this reason, scientists have begun looking into the effects of these powerful chemicals on marine wildlife.


Chemical dispersants being sprayed into the Gulf following the BP oil spill.

In a recent study out of the University of Southern Maine, “Chemical dispersants used in the Gulf of Mexico oil crisis are cytotoxic and genotoxic to sperm whale skin cells,” researchers tested the effects of the chemical dispersants Corexit 9500 and Corexit 9527 to sperm whale skin cells. There is a small population, around 1600 sperm whales, residing in the Gulf. Since these whales inhabit part of the area inundated with oil after the BP spill, there is a high chance some of these whales came into contact with oil, and with the dispersants. With so few whales, the population is highly susceptible to disturbance: any chaotic or harmful event threatens its overall vitality. In addition, the most recent IUCN Red List of Threatened Species classified sperm whales as Vulnerable, meaning they are at risk of extinction. Therefore, understanding the effects of chemical dispersants on sperm whales is critical for ensuring the population’s health and stability.

To begin the process, researchers grew skin cells from samples obtained from Gulf whales before the spill. They applied varying concentrations of the two dispersants to the cultured cells, and measured the effects for one day. Since chemicals can be harmful in different ways, researchers studied the dispersants’ toxicity to the cells (called cytotoxicity) and to chromosomes (called genotoxicity). They found both dispersants to be poisonous to the cells, but only Corexit 9527 to be toxic to the cells’ genetic material.

Cytotoxicity and genotoxicity have different implications. A chemical that is cytotoxic –poisonous only at the cellular level—may cause fatal or non-fatal issues for individual organisms, such as skin lesions or respiratory complications. A chemical that is genotoxic, that disrupts the functions of genes, can leave an imprint on the next generation. It may cause problems in mating, reproduction, or calf development. A sperm whale exposed to Corexit 9527 may be unable to reproduce. If she can reproduce, she may have mal-formed or non-reproductive offspring.

Genotoxicity can have lingering detrimental effects on the population as a whole, endangering its future. While it would be valuable to know which dispersant is more toxic, researchers caution it is difficult to compare them because the effects are very different. Corexit 9500 was slightly more cytotoxic, but Corexit 9527 was significantly more genotoxic. Ultimately, the choice of which to use may depend on which outcome is more, or perhaps less, desirable.

There is no way to determine how many whales were exposed to dispersants, nor the degree of exposure. But a 2014 study citing widespread health problems among Gulf marine mammals, including complications in fetus development, gives cause for concern. The population’s size, the toxicity of chemical dispersants, and reports of toxin-related health problems make clear that Gulf sperm whales are at risk. Researchers will continue monitoring the health of the population, and only time will illuminate the full effects. Until we know more, we’re left wondering: if dispersants harm wildlife, how useful are they?

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Five Years Later, Scientists Gather to Assess Ongoing Impact of BP Oil Spill

February 26, 2015 | Posted by lbourg in BP Oil Disaster, Science

By Alisha Renfro, National Wildlife Federation & Jacques Hebert, National Audubon Societyoil slick

Last week while some people on the Gulf Coast were in the thick of celebrating Mardi Gras, more than 1000 scientists, including those from the Restore the Mississippi River Delta campaign, met in Houston, Texas, to attend the third-annual Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill and Ecosystem Science Conference. The four-day conference, which included a mix of keynotes and oral and poster presentations, aimed to share scientific information and forward scientific understanding of the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem and particularly the impact of oil pollutants on this fragile ecosystem. Nearly five years since the BP oil spill, the takeaway is clear: The effects of the oil spill on the Gulf ecosystem are far-reaching, ongoing and significant.

Here are three key highlights from last week’s conference:

  1. The impact is far-reaching: Research ranging from the deep sea to Gulf shoreline estuaries has documented significant impacts of the oil spill on ecosystems and on different animal and plant life.
  2. The impact is ongoing: Recent research has found a large amount of the oil discharged during the spill can still be found in offshore sediments. Storms, like Hurricane Isaac in 2012, redistribute oil into previously unoiled marshes and wash sandy tar balls onto beaches.
  3. The impact is significant: The rate of marsh shoreline erosion increased with oiling and continued impacts on marshes have been documented at least four years after the spill.

And for more, don’t miss some of the media coverage that came out of the conference:

  1. Los Angeles Times: “BP cherry-picks study to dodge blame for massive deaths of gulf dolphins
  2. Houston Chronicle: “Studies: BP spill reduced Gulf life
  3. Houston Public Media: “Houston Conference Highlights Scientific Research On Deepwater Oil Spill Damage

Want to learn about efforts to provide meaningful restoration in the ongoing wake of the BP oil spill? Visit, like us on Facebook, and follow us on Twitter. You can also share this post with your network using the following tweet:

  • 5 years later, major oil spill science conference tells us BP effects are evident and ongoing: #GulfScienceConference
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Third and Final Phase of the BP Trial Brought to a Close on February 2, 2015

February 9, 2015 | Posted by lbourg in BP Oil Disaster, Clean Water Act, Federal Policy, RESTORE Act

By Will Lindsey 

This is the second post about phase III of trial. To read part I, click here.

The third and final phase of the BP trial ended on Monday, February 2, 2015. Based on the evidence presented in this phase, U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier will decide the Clean Water Act civil penalty that both BP and Anadarko, a 25 percent non-operator in the Macando well, will pay. The United States is seeking the maximum Clean Water Act penalty of up to $13.7 billion from BP and an amount more than $1 billion from Anadarko.

Throughout the trial, Judge Barbier was relatively quiet, occasionally inserting questions or points of clarification. Towards the end of the trial, however, Judge Barbier suggested on numerous occasions that some of the testimony BP was presenting was duplicative. This was especially true during the testimony of a BP exploration & production executive, Richard Morrison. As Mr. Morrison was testifying about the extent of BP’s response efforts after the spill, Judge Barbier interrupted at least twice to suggest that it was testimony that he had already heard from previous witnesses.

Judge Barbier also interrupted during the testimony of one of Anadarko’s witnesses. For its second witness, Anadarko called Kenneth Arnold, an expert in the field of safety in drilling operations. Mr. Arnold testified that requiring additional duties of non-operators, such as Clean Water Act civil penalties, could lead to confusion and ultimately a lower level of safety in drilling operations. This argument aligns with Anadarko’s overall theme – that there was no act committed by Anadarko as a non-operator, and thus assessing a Clean Water Act civil penalty against the company would not serve to deter future behavior. Judge Barbier stepped in here, however, suggesting that a policy argument such as this should be made before Congress and not in the courtroom. Despite allowing Anadarko to proceed with Mr. Arnold’s testimony, Judge Barbier noted that Congress had already clearly decided to make an “owner or operator” liable for discharges under the Clean Water Act.

The United States has several strong arguments weighing in favor of a high Clean Water Act civil penalty. The first is that there were numerous stakeholders involved in the spill response, including the U.S. Coast Guard and a number of federal agencies. Each of these entities expended time, resources and expertise in responding to the spill. Given that one of the factors that Judge Barbier will consider in assessing the civil penalty is the success of efforts to minimize or mitigate the effects of the discharge is, it is important that BP not get credit for the entirety of the spill response actions that were taken, as indeed BP was not responding to the spill in isolation. The second big point weighing in favor of a higher penalty is that lowering the civil penalty based on previously paid penalties, such as criminal penalty assessed against BP, would ultimately dilute the effect of these penalties.

During opening statements, Judge Barbier asked the parties if there was any precedent for requiring that a Clean Water Act civil penalty be paid over a specified amount of time rather than as a single lump sum. The United States indicated that there was at least one such instance in a Clean Water Act suit. This indicates, at least to some degree, that Judge Barbier is considering the option of assessing a high civil penalty against the company.

Due to the enactment of the RESTORE Act, 80 percent of the penalties resulting from this phase will go to the Gulf Coast for restoration. This funding cannot come soon enough given the high price tag that many coastal restoration projects carry with them. Ultimately, the funding stemming from this trial could mean the difference in reversing the trend of coastal wetland loss that has been impacting the gulf coast for decades.

It is unclear when exactly Judge Barbier will come out with a penalty ruling. But recent polling indicates that 70 percent of Americans believe BP should pay the maximum allowed under the Clean Water Act for its role in one of the largest oil spills in American history. It is imperative to both the Gulf and the nation that BP be held fully accountable.

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Survey Says Majority of Americans Believe BP Should Pay Maximum Gulf Oil Spill Fines

February 6, 2015 | Posted by Elizabeth Van Cleve in BP Oil Disaster, Media Resources


Emily Guidry Schatzel, National Wildlife Federation, 225.253.9781,
Elizabeth Van Cleve, Environmental Defense Fund, 202.553.2543,
Jacques Hebert, National Audubon Society, 504.264.6849,

Survey Says Majority of Americans Believe BP Should Pay Maximum Gulf Oil Spill Fines
70 percent say oil company should be fined the maximum allowed under the Clean Water Act

(New Orleans – February 6, 2015) A new national survey reports that 70 percent of Americans polled nationwide believe “BP should be fined the maximum amount allowed under the Clean Water Act” for its role in the 2010 Gulf oil spill.

The third and final phase of the BP oil spill civil trial, which will determine how much the oil company will be required to pay in fines, concluded this week in New Orleans. BP could be ordered to pay up to $13.7 billion in Clean Water Act fines for its role in one of the largest oil disasters in U.S. history.

IMG_9283“The majority of Americans understand that BP has not yet paid any civil penalties for its reckless discharge of oil into the Gulf, nor can it claim credit for clean-up costs as if mopping up your mess is the same as fixing the damage it caused. As new scientific studies are published, we learn more and more about the lasting impacts to many species, habitats and industries,” said David Muth, director of National Wildlife Federation’s Gulf restoration program. “Five years later, Gulf restoration has not truly begun. If BP really wants Americans to believe it is sincere, it should pay the fines it owes, and fund the restoration the Gulf so badly needs.”

An overwhelming majority of Americans polled in all parts of the country said they believed BP should pay the maximum fines, even after hearing BP’s claims of what the company has already spent on “spill-related costs” thus far. This is according to the results of the independent survey conducted by the polling company, inc./WomanTrend.

“Americans aren’t fooled by BP’s misleading advertising campaigns and five years of legal shenanigans to drag out this court case,” said Douglas Meffert, executive director and vice president of Audubon Louisiana. “BP claims it wants to ‘make it right.’ If that is true, the first step is to start accepting responsibility for the damage it caused the wetlands, people and wildlife of the Gulf Coast and pay the maximum fines.”

“If BP wants anyone other than themselves to agree that they ‘made it right,’ they can step out of the shadow of lawyers, quit spinning and arguing, and just accept full responsibility,” said Steve Cochran, director of Environmental Defense Fund’s Mississippi River Delta Restoration program. “The sooner that happens, the sooner real resources can be put to work restoring the Gulf. And in this anniversary year of one of the worst oil spills in American history, that would be a great thing for the Gulf and for BP.”


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