Archive for Clean Water Act


A visit to the Caminada Headland Beach & Dune Restoration project

April 7, 2015 | Posted by lbourg in 5 Years Later, BP Oil Disaster, Clean Water Act, Restoration Projects, Science

By Estelle Robichaux, Restoration Project Analyst, Environmental Defense Fund

The BP oil spill has had devastating impacts on Gulf Coast ecosystems and communities, but coastal Louisiana’s land loss crisis began decades before the disaster. The Clean Water Act fines and other money paid through settlements relating to the spill offer an unprecedented opportunity to restore Gulf Coast habitats and natural resources.

Many of the early restoration projects funded in Louisiana are focused on barrier islands because of the important role they play in the coastal ecosystem and the severe impacts they experienced during the spill. Louisiana’s barrier islands were heavily oiled because they act as a “first line of defense” against disturbance, such as storm surge or, in this case, oil. In fact, Louisiana’s coastal islands continue to experience re-oiling even today.

Caminada Headland Beach & Dune Restoration

One very important barrier island restoration project currently underway is the Caminada Headland Beach & Dune restoration, which is part of our coalition’s priority project, Belle Pass to Caminada Pass Barrier Island Restoration. The Caminada Headland forms the western edge of the Barataria Basin barrier system and has experienced some of the highest rates of shoreline retreat and land loss along the Louisiana coast.

Caminada map_LB

Photo: Google Earth

I recently had the opportunity to see the first constructed phase of the Caminada restoration project on a field trip hosted by our partner, Restore or Retreat, and the Greater Lafourche Port Commission. It was inspiring to see restoration at work! There were birds and crabs on the shoreline, small plants naturally re-vegetating and the different project components working together – breakwaters protecting the shore and the sand fence having created a substantial dune. More projects like this are exactly what coastal Louisiana needs.

Why is the Caminada Headland important?

The Caminada Headland is a significant feature along Louisiana’s coastline because it provides critical habitat for important neotropical migratory birds and threatened or endangered species, such as the piping plover and Kemp’s ridley sea turtle. It is also a buffer from storm surge and waves for valuable public and private infrastructure, including Port Fourchon and Highway 1, which provides the only evacuation route for coastal communities such as Grand Isle, La.

Piping plover. Photo: Erik Johnson

Piping plover. Photo: Erik Johnson

Port Fourchon. Photo: Estelle Robichaux

Port Fourchon. Photo: Estelle Robichaux

Port Fourchon is an important nexus in our national energy infrastructure system. Approximately 18 percent of the nation’s oil supply is transported through the port, and it is the land base for the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port (LOOP). The LOOP is connected to refineries across the country, which collectively make up half of the oil refining capacity in the U.S., and handles about 15 percent of our foreign oil imports. The activity, infrastructure and continuing growth of the port is truly impressive!

What makes this restoration project unique?

The first phase of the Caminada Headland restoration project created and enhanced more than 300 acres of beach and dune habitat. This project used a mix of sediment pumped from the Mississippi River and high-quality, beach-compatible sand from Ship Shoal, a large marine sand deposit just offshore of Isles Dernieres. Most of the other nearby sand sources have been exhausted, so this was the first time that sediment from Ship Shoal has been used for restoration.

Caminada pre-post construction 2

Photo: Gulf Coast Air Photo

The planning and design of the Caminada project was funded using the Coastal Impact Assistance Program and Louisiana state surplus funds, but they only had enough money (~$70 million) to restore a portion of the island. The success of this first phase, however, was leveraged when more funding became available, via the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation, to complete restoration of Caminada’s beach and dune habitat.

Construction on the first phase of the beach and dune habitat restoration is complete and soon the entire project area will be planted with native vegetation. The second phase of construction for the Caminada Headland restoration project – which at 489 acres, is the largest restoration project ever undertaken by Louisiana’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority – should begin within the next month. Design for restoration of the Caminada Headland back barrier marsh is also currently underway.

Check out my previous post in this series, Exploring Early Coastal Restoration Funding and Projects

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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

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact:
Emily Guidry Schatzel, National Wildlife Federation, 225.253.9781, schatzele@nwf.org
Jacques Hebert, National Audubon Society, 504.264.6849, jhebert@audubon.org
Elizabeth Van Cleve, Environmental Defense Fund, 202.553.2543, evancleve@edf.org

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.”

Background:

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.

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David Muth

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

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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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Phase III, Week 1: Recap of the BP oil spill trial

January 25, 2015 | Posted by lbourg in BP Oil Disaster, Clean Water Act, Federal Policy

By Will Lindsey

The first week of phase III of the BP trial ended on Friday, January 23. During this phase, which is expected to last three weeks, Judge Carl Barbier will determine the amount of Clean Water Act civil penalties that BP must pay for the 2010 Gulf oil disaster.

Phase III comes after two previous phases, the first of which determined that BP was 67 percent responsible for the spill, while phase II determined that 3.19 million barrels of oil were discharged into the Gulf after the oil collected was deducted. Given these findings of fact and conclusions of law, Judge Barbier will now determine what BP will pay. In so determining, Judge Barbier will consider 8 factors laid out in the Clean Water Act for assessing civil penalties, including:

1) the seriousness of the violation or violations,

2) the economic benefit to the violator, if any, resulting from the violation,

3) the degree of culpability involved,

4) any other penalty for the same incident,

5) any history of prior violations,

6) the nature, extent, and degree of success of any efforts to the violator to minimize or mitigate the effects of the discharge,

7) the economic impact of the penalty on the violator, and

8) any other matters as justice may require.

Each side will present extensive evidence, primarily in the form of expert testimony, on most of these factors. The United States will not present new evidence on factors that it contends have already been determined, such as the degree of culpability, which was determined in phase II. In addition, the United States will not present new evidence on the economic benefit to BP of the violations, as it contends that phase I dealt with “BP’s cost-cutting decisions.

However, many of these factors will be adamantly disputed and ultimately a “battle of the experts” will ensue at trial. Each side will attempt to discredit the expert witnesses called by the opposing side. Experts will testify on BP’s ability to pay the maximum penalty, BP’s response efforts, the impact that the spill had on the environment and BP’s economic importance to the Gulf Coast, among other issues.

BP indicated in its opening statement that it will highlight the extent of its response efforts to suggest that impacts were successfully mitigated. It will also highlight the expenditures, both as a result of legal proceedings and otherwise, that it has incurred thus far. The United States will in turn emphasize the fact that response effort successes were a result of efforts carried out by numerous parties and not solely attributable to BP, as it indicated in its opening statement. Additionally, the United States will argue that a reduction of the civil penalties in this proceeding based on other penalties, like the criminal penalty, would mean that BP is effectively not paying these penalties.

Ultimately, the expert reports and testimonies of each side will differ. A clear example can be seen in the expert testimony of Captain Mark VanHaverbeke, who testified that approximately five percent of the oil was removed from the Gulf. He indicated that this estimate is lower than the estimate of BP’s expert, Captain Frank Paskewich, because it does not include oil that was dispersed or burned. Captain VanHaverbeke testified that these two methods do not actually remove the oil from the environment. Captain Paskewich’s estimates included oil that was dispersed and burned.

The Gulf Coast is desperately in need of funding for coastal restoration efforts. The billions of dollars at stake in this litigation could mean great things for coastal restoration efforts in the Gulf Coast. The United States will seek an amount close to the maximum penalty of $13.7 billion.

 

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What is Phase III of the BP Trial?

January 20, 2015 | Posted by lbourg in BP Oil Disaster, Clean Water Act, Federal Policy, RESTORE Act

Phase III of the BP Trial started this week. But what does this mean? Why are there “phases”, and when will this trial end? All good questions.

The BP trial underway is a civil (not criminal) litigation between the U.S. Department of Justice and BP and other parties responsible for the 2010 Gulf oil spill. BP and others are being held accountable for violations of the Clean Water Act for spilling millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. Because of the RESTORE Act, 80 percent of all fines and penalties resulting from this trial will return to the Gulf Coast for restoration.

Before specifically getting to Phase III, let’s recap the earlier phases. The first two phases of the trial dealt with a) who was at fault for the oil spill and to what extent, and b) how much oil spilled into the Gulf of Mexico. In dividing up who was at fault for the Deepwater Horizon explosion and the resulting oil spill, Judge Carl Barbier found that BP was 67 percent responsible, Transocean Ltd. (the owner of the rig) was 30 percent responsible and Halliburton (the cement contractor) was 3 percent responsible.oilslick

In September 2014, Judge Barbier ruled that BP was guilty of “gross negligence” for its actions leading to the blowout, saying BP was making “profit-driven decisions” that led to the rig explosion. In his ruling, he reiterated, “these instances of negligence, taken together, evince an extreme deviation from the standard of care and a conscious disregard of known risks.” Being found guilty of gross negligence means BP could have to pay a fine of up to $4,300 per barrel of oil spilled. Most recently, Judge Barbier ruled that the amount of oil that spilled into the Gulf was 3.19 million barrels. Do the math (3.19 million barrels x $4,300 per barrel), and that means BP could face Clean Water Act fines up to $13.7 billion.

So, what is Phase III? Phase III is about how much BP will actually have to pay. Note that the fine amounts are “up to” $13.7 billion – this phase of the trial essentially determines the “up to.” Specifically, there are eight penalty factors set out in the Clean Water Act that help determine liability. These are judgments of mitigating circumstances that could impact the overall dollar figure that BP owes.

Ok, what’s next after this? Phase III is the final scheduled phase of the trial. At some point following this phase of the trial (and it could be months later), Judge Barbier will rule on how much BP must pay. BP continues to fight every decision, and it has already said it will appeal the ruling of gross negligence, so the courtroom battle could continue. However many observers hope that with all three phases complete, BP will be more inclined to agree to a settlement with the Department of Justice.

With billions of dollars at stake, and the timing of this money potentially coming as soon as this spring or, unfortunately, not for years if BP is able to continue appealing legal decisions, the current BP trial is critical to the fate of coastal restoration.

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Final Phase of BP Oil Spill Trial to Begin Next Week

January 15, 2015 | Posted by Elizabeth Van Cleve in Birds, BP Oil Disaster, Clean Water Act, Media Resources, RESTORE Act, Science, Seafood, Wildlife

Press Statement + Interview Opportunities Available

Contact:
Emily Guidry Schatzel, National Wildlife Federation, 225.253.9781, schatzele@nwf.org
Elizabeth Van Cleve, Environmental Defense Fund, 202.553.2543, evancleve@edf.org
Lauren Bourg, National Audubon Society, 225.776.9838, lbourg@audubon.org

Final Phase of BP Oil Spill Trial to Begin Next Week

BP must be held fully accountable for its role in nation’s largest oil disaster

(New Orleans – January 15, 2015) On Tuesday, January 20, 2015, the third and final phase of the BP oil spill civil trial will begin in New Orleans. This concluding portion of the trial will determine how much BP will be required to pay in Clean Water Act fines for its role in the 2010 Gulf oil disaster.

National and local conservation organizations committed to Mississippi River Delta and Gulf Coast restoration – Environmental Defense Fund, National Wildlife Federation, National Audubon Society and the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation – issued the following statement in advance of Tuesday’s proceedings:

“Nearly five years after the oil disaster, the people and wildlife of the Gulf Coast still wait for justice. For 87 days, BP dumped more than 200 million gallons of oil into our Gulf, contaminating our marshes and beaches and jeopardizing wildlife ranging from brown pelicans to sperm whales. But the oil giant has yet to take full responsibility. BP has dragged out litigation in the courts, challenging every decision only to have each decision against them confirmed by higher courts.

“Despite claims that it would ‘make it right’ in the Gulf, BP has, for the past five years, waged a public relations war focused on blaming everyone else and denying sound scientific research showing ongoing impacts from the oil disaster. The effects of the oil spill are far from over and may not be fully known for years, or even decades, to come.

“Now the court has the opportunity and responsibility to make it right, to hold BP fully accountable for the damage done to the Gulf and to assign the maximum penalty to BP for its gross negligence. The outcome from this decision must send a clear and powerful signal to every other operator in the Gulf: deep-sea drilling is risky business, and they must protect their employees, our communities and our ecosystems. BP chose not to do that, so they deserve to pay the maximum fines allowed by law.

“Through the RESTORE Act of 2012, Congress paved the way for the Gulf’s recovery by ensuring that 80 percent of the Clean Water Act fines BP will pay will be reinvested into Gulf Coast restoration. But that restoration can’t begin until this case is resolved and the legal wrangling ends – and BP remains the principle barrier to much-needed funding going to vital restoration projects.

“Holding BP fully accountable for the 2010 Gulf oil disaster is the fair and right thing to do for the Gulf’s ecosystems and economies. We are hoping, after five long years, that justice is close. The Gulf has waited long enough.”

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Interview Opportunities: Interview opportunities are available with experts in science, policy, wildlife and restoration issues from our national and local conservation organizations.

Mississippi River Delta Restoration Experts:
David Muth, Director for Mississippi River Delta Restoration, National Wildlife Federation
Douglas J. Meffert, D. Env., MBA, Executive Director, National Audubon Society (Audubon Louisiana)
Steve Cochran, Director for Mississippi River Delta Restoration, Environmental Defense Fund

Science:
John A. Lopez, Ph.D., Coastal Scientist, Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation
Alisha Renfro, Ph.D., Coastal Scientist, Mississippi River Delta Restoration, National Wildlife Federation
Natalie Peyronnin, Director of Science Policy, Mississippi River Delta Restoration, Environmental Defense Fund

Policy:
Courtney Taylor, Policy Director, Ecosystems Program, Environmental Defense Fund

Background:
Since the BP oil disaster began nearly 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. Over the past year alone, new research has surfaced:

  • An October 2014 study showed that the Gulf oil disaster left an “oily bathtub ring” the size of Rhode Island on the sea floor.
  • A study by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) detailed how exposure to BP oil can lead to abnormalities including irregular heartbeats and heart attacks in Atlantic bluefin tuna and amberjack.
  • A NOAA study revealed that dolphins exposed to BP oil had increased health problems, including adrenal problems, severe lung disease and reproductive issues.
  • A study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences definitively linked a community of damaged deep water corals near the Macondo well to the BP oil spill.
  • A Louisiana State University researcher found that the BP oil spill is still killing Louisiana coastal insects.
  • Visible tar balls and tar mats continue to surface, including a 40,000-pound tar mat discovered off the coast of a Louisiana barrier island in June 2013, three years after the start of the oil spill.
  • An infographic depicts ongoing impacts of the Gulf oil disaster.
Deepwater Horizon rig explosion

2010 Deepwater Horizon rig explosion.

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Conservation Groups React to Ruling that BP Grossly Negligent in 2010 Oil Disaster

September 4, 2014 | Posted by Ryan Rastegar in BP Oil Disaster, Clean Water Act, Latest News, Media Resources

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CONTACT:
Emily Guidry Schatzel, National Wildlife Federation, 225.253.9781, schatzele@nwf.org
Elizabeth Skree,
Environmental Defense Fund, 202.553.2543, eskree@edf.org
Erin Greeson,
National Audubon Society, 503.913.8978, egreeson@audubon.org

Conservation Groups React to Ruling that BP Grossly Negligent

in 2010 Oil Disaster

Today’s ruling a vital step toward holding BP accountable, restoring the Gulf

(September 4, 2014 – New Orleans) National and local organizations working on Mississippi River Delta restoration – Environmental Defense FundNational Wildlife FederationNational Audubon Society and the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation – released the following statement:

“More than 4 years after the BP oil disaster, today’s ruling brings hope and justice for the people, wildlife and ecosystems of Louisiana and the Gulf Coast. For 87 days, the Deepwater Horizon well spewed more than 4.1 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico – because of BP’s egregious conduct. A court of law has confirmed that risky and reckless behavior has consequences. The areas most damaged by the spill cannot wait any longer for restoration to begin. Today’s ruling is a vital step toward holding BP and other parties responsible for the largest oil spill in our nation’s history.”

Protesters gather on the first day of the BP trial in February 2013. Photo credit: Reuters

Protesters gather on the first day of the BP trial in February 2013. Photo credit: Reuters

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Conservation Organizations Respond to Senator Mary Landrieu’s Confirmation as Chairwoman of Energy and Natural Resources Committee

February 11, 2014 | Posted by Elizabeth Van Cleve in BP Oil Disaster, Clean Water Act, Media Resources, RESTORE Act, Senator Mary Landrieu

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CONTACTS: Elizabeth Skree, Environmental Defense Fund, 202.553.2543, eskree@edf.org
Emily Guidry Schatzel, National Wildlife Federation, 225.253.9781, schatzele@nwf.org
Erin Greeson, National Audubon Society, 503.913.8978, egreeson@audubon.org

Conservation Organizations Respond to Senator Mary Landrieu’s Confirmation as Chairwoman of Energy and Natural Resources Committee

Landrieu a champion for Louisiana coastal restoration, Gulf oil spill recovery

(Washington, DC—February 11, 2014) Today, the U.S. Senate Democratic Caucus confirmed Senator Mary Landrieu as chairwoman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. National and local conservation organizations committed to Mississippi River Delta restoration – Environmental Defense FundNational Wildlife FederationNational Audubon SocietyLake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation and the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana – issued the following statement:

“We are pleased to welcome Senator Mary Landrieu as the new chairwoman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Senator Landrieu has proven herself to be a champion for restoration of the Mississippi River Delta, as well as an effective legislator, notably demonstrated by her leadership in crafting and passing the bipartisan RESTORE Act which benefits the entire Gulf Coast. The law ensures that Clean Water Act fines from the 2010 BP Gulf oil disaster go back to the Gulf Coast states for restoration. This historic legislation would not have become law without Senator Landrieu’s tireless leadership and her ability to work across the aisle. In her new capacity as committee chairwoman, we look forward to a continued partnership to advance both funding and implementation of Mississippi River Delta restoration.”

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The Restore the Mississippi River Delta coalition is working to protect people, wildlife and jobs by reconnecting the river with its wetlands. As our region faces the crisis of threatening land loss, we offer science-based solutions through a comprehensive approach to restoration. Comprised of conservation, policy, science and outreach experts from Environmental Defense Fund, National Audubon Society, National Wildlife Federation, Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana and Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, we are located in Houma, New Orleans and Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Washington, D.C.; and around the United States. See more at www.mississippiriverdelta.org.

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Phase II of BP oil spill trial expected to conclude today

October 18, 2013 | Posted by Delta Dispatches in BP Oil Disaster, Clean Water Act, RESTORE Act

By Whit Remer, Policy Analyst, Environmental Defense Fund

Start of phase two of trial. Sept. 30, 2013.

Expert testimony on how much oil flowed into the Gulf of Mexico during the 2010 oil disaster is expected to wrap up today in a New Orleans federal courtroom. This testimony is part of the Quantification Segment of the second phase of the BP trial, which began on September 30 and is ending a full week earlier than expected. Phase two is focused on efforts to stop the flow of oil from the well (Source Control Segment) and how much oil spewed into the Gulf of Mexico during the 87-day disaster (Quantification Segment). Phase one of trial, which lasted two months and ended in April, covered the events that caused the Deepwater Horizon rig explosion. Despite the nearly concurrent federal government shutdown, trial continued relatively unfazed over the past three weeks.

Phase two kicked off with the Source Control Segment, where presiding Judge Carl Barbier heard testimony on the multiple engineering feats BP attempted to seal the uncontrolled Macondo well. The Quantification Segment pitted the U.S. Department of Justice against BP, each side offering conflicting expert testimony on the amount of oil that gushed from the well. The Quantification Segment is focused on a simple question with a not-so-simple answer: How much oil did BP spill into the Gulf of Mexico? Under the Clean Water Act, BP is subject to per-barrel fines based on how much oil was released into the Gulf. The government believes BP is liable for 4.2 million barrels, while BP contends they are responsible for no more than 2.45 million barrels. Each side is offering highly complex and technical scientific and engineering evidence related to how they estimated the total amount offered in court, and the judge will consider these testimonies when he determines how much BP will pay.

BP has maintained that the government exaggerated the amount of oil spilled during the disaster. The company argues that flow rates offered by the government were generated “over a single weekend” at the beginning of the spill. BP contends that the flow rate from the well was variable over time, and that it actually decreased as the spill progressed. Attorneys for the government attacked BP’s witnesses’ findings and even suggested potential bias, citing a $100 million donation made by BP to the Imperial College London which employs two of BP’s trial witnesses.

While it is plausible that Judge Barbier will come down somewhere in the middle of the 2.45 to 4.2 million barrel range, the total amount of Clean Water Act fines could quadruple if BP is found grossly negligent. A ruling on negligence, which has not been issued, will likely be based on evidence from both phase one and phase two of trial. Judge Barbier has noted that he will schedule a third penalty phase to help him assess fines in the case, presumably sometime next year. Eighty percent of the penalty money assessed in this case under the Clean Water Act will be distributed to the Gulf Coast states for restoration through the RESTORE Act, the federal law passed last year.

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Science plays key role in determining amount of oil spilled during 2010 Gulf disaster

October 17, 2013 | Posted by Delta Dispatches in BP Oil Disaster, Clean Water Act, Science

By Alisha Renfro, Coastal Scientist, National Wildlife Federation 

A "vessel of opportunity" skims oil spilled after the Deepwater Horizon/BP well blowout in the Gulf of Mexico in April 2010. Photo: NOAA.

The unprecedented scale of the 2010 BP oil spill and the further complexity introduced by its deep water location pushed scientists involved in the response effort to apply both old and new research methods to estimate the rate of oil flow from the well and the total volume of oil spilled. Currently in New Orleans, phase II of the BP oil spill trial – which will focus on that very question of how much oil gushed from the well into the Gulf during the 86 days between the initial blowout and when the well was finally capped – is underway. Ultimately, this total volume of oil spilled will play a key role in determining the amount of Clean Water Act penalties BP will pay. The decisions made during this phase of trial will come down on the hard work and innovation of the scientific community’s response to a spill that happened under difficult conditions that didn't have easy solutions.

In an article in the December 2012 issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, scientists involved in the response reviewed the different methods used to estimate the flow rate of crude oil from the well. The researchers concluded that the science supports flow rates that ranged from 50,000 to 70,000 barrels of oil per day, resulting in a total release of around 5 million barrels of oil from the well, with 4.2 million barrels making it into the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem due to recapturing efforts by BP.

In the days immediately following the April 20, 2010 well blowout, the flow rate of oil from the well was one of the most critical pieces of information needed to inform response efforts and prepare designs and procedures that could be used to try and cap the well. Measuring the rate of flow of oil was more complicated than it may seem as the material gushing from the well consisted of a combination of oil and natural gas. To meet this need, an official technical group was gathered which included experts from a variety of scientific disciplines that would work on estimating flow rate and the total volume of oil released.

Heavy band of oil seen during an overflight on May 12. Credit: NOAA.

Flow rate estimates were calculated from a variety of different methods, including oil collection at the sea surface, acoustic and video observations, sampling and analysis of the composition of the discharge material, infrared imaging from aircraft and from modeling the depletion of the reservoir after the well was capped. Some of these methods yielded what were considered more reliable estimates than others. However, quite remarkably, almost all of the methods reviewed in this article converged on flow rates that ranged from 50,000 to 70,000 barrels per day.

Based on the flow rate of oil and its variability with time, the science team involved estimated that approximately 5 million barrels of oil would have been discharged from the well over the 86 days it remained uncapped. Differences between flow rate measured at the well and flow rates calculated from what was observed at the ocean surface suggest that 2 million barrels of oil never made it to the ocean surface and remain in the deep sea. This suggests that the ongoing effects of the oil spill may not be known for years to come.

As phase II of trial continues this week, expert witnesses will testify on rate of oil flow from the Macondo well, using sound science to support their conclusions.

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