Archive for Federal Policy


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

February 11, 2014 | Posted by Elizabeth Skree 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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A Tale of Two Meetings

January 15, 2014 | Posted by Delta Dispatches in 2012 Coastal Master Plan, BP Oil Disaster, Meetings/Events, Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA)

By Philip Russo, Mississippi River Delta Restoration Campaign

It is hard to say no to a good two-for-one deal. At least, that’s what Louisiana’s Coastal Restoration and Protection Authority (CPRA) had in mind when they planned this week’s public meetings in South Louisiana.

At meetings in Belle Chasse (yesterday), Thibodaux (tonight) and Lake Charles (tomorrow evening), CPRA is unveiling and accepting public comments on their Draft Fiscal Year 2015 Annual Plan as well as the Gulf oil spill Draft Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) and Phase III Early Restoration Plan.

Annual-Plan-Download

To kick off the tour, more than 100 people attended the Belle Chasse meeting last evening. CPRA’s Deputy Executive Director, Kyle Graham, began the two-hour joint meeting by presenting Louisiana’s Draft FY2015 Annual Plan. Graham described the implementation of the Louisiana Coastal Master Plan as a “50-year program, at least.” He qualified this by saying that “We live in an engineered landscape, and it’s going to be much longer than that. We know that this is a program that needs to go on for as long as we choose to live in this engineered landscape.” He outlined the multi-layered suite of restoration projects the CPRA is designing, engineering and constructing and emphasized that “we are in the middle of the largest restoration construction boom in the state’s history.” He also pointed out that the suite of coastal restoration projects will soon include sediment diversions.

Sediment diversions were a popular topic of discussion during the Draft FY15 Annual Plan public comment period. Some attendees expressed their view that diversions will bring more harm than good for fish and oyster habitats. Conversely, John Lopez of the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation expressed that without the full suite of coastal restoration projects, which includes sediment diversions, “all of our livelihoods down here in South Louisiana are potentially at stake; it’s not one particular sector.”

The close of the Annual Plan public comment session transitioned right into the NRDA PEIS and Phase III Early Restoration Plan portion of the meeting. Residents were updated about various projects being funded by the $1 billion made available by BP for early NRDA restoration. Though all funds stemming from the BP oil disaster are to be split between the five Gulf Coast states, they can only be used for projects that are designed to restore or enhance recreational and ecological activity along the Gulf. In Louisiana, the main four projects featured in the presentation were barrier island restoration projects in the Caillou Lake Headlands, Chenier Ronquille, Shell Island and North Breton Island.

Though some public comments were made following the NRDA section, it lacked the intensity of the first round. Regardless, the back-to-back meeting was a great opportunity for local residents, politicians and advocates alike to participate in Louisiana’s coastal planning process.

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Draft FY2015 Annual Plan, Oil Spill NRDA Public Meetings

January 10, 2014 | Posted by Delta Dispatches in 2012 Coastal Master Plan, BP Oil Disaster, Meetings/Events, Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA), NOAA

By Maura Wood, Partnership Manager, National Wildlife Federation

With everyone’s help, we are making great strides toward restoring Louisiana’s coast. Our efforts to attain the resources necessary to meet this great challenge are gaining momentum and projects are moving forward. Next week on January 14, 15, and 16, Louisianans will be able to learn about and comment on the progress being made on coastal restoration at three multi-purpose public hearings being held by Louisiana’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA).

The first section of each meeting will be an opportunity to hear a summary presentation of the CPRA’s Draft Fiscal Year 2015 Annual Plan and make comments on the plan. Each year, the Annual Plan details how the 2012 Coastal Master Plan is being implemented, reports on the status of ongoing work and projects and provides a 3-year projection of expenditures, as required by law. The Annual Plan provides a window into how the CPRA is allocating its resources in the short term, within the context of the long-term, big-picture vision of the overall Coastal Master Plan.

Beach habitat would be restored as part of the proposed third phase of early restoration.

Beach habitat would be restored as part of the proposed third phase of early restoration.

The second half of the meeting will widen the focus to include Gulf-wide coastal restoration plans and projects. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Deepwater Horizon Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) Trustees will give a presentation on and listen to public comments regarding the Draft Programmatic and Phase III Early Restoration Plan and Draft Early Restoration Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement. This meeting is an opportunity for the public to comment on the third and final set of projects proposed to address oil spill impacts under the Early Restoration Plan as well as the Environmental Impact Statement that assesses the projects themselves.

All meetings are public and will begin with an open house at 5:30 p.m., followed by presentations beginning at 6:00 p.m. Please consider joining us at one of the following meetings. If you’re interested in attending, please contact our field director, Stephanie Powell, at powells@nwf.org.

Tuesday, January 14
Belle Chasse Auditorium
8398 Louisiana 23
Belle Chasse, Louisiana
(Get Directions)

Wednesday, January 15
Warren J. Harang, Jr. Municipal Auditorium
Plantation Room
310 North Canal Boulevard
Thibodaux, Louisiana
(Get Directions)

Thursday, January 16
Spring Hill Suites Lake Charles
Pelican Room
1551 West Prien Lake Road
Lake Charles, Louisiana
(Get Directions)

For more information:

Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority: coastal.la.gov

Phase III of Early Restoration: www.gulfspillrestoration.noaa.gov/restoration/early-restoration/phase-iii/

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Deepwater Horizon Trustees release environmental plans for $627 million in restoration projects

December 18, 2013 | Posted by Delta Dispatches in BP Oil Disaster, Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA), Restoration Projects

By Whit Remer and Estelle Robichaux, Environmental Defense Fund

On December 6, the U.S. Department of Interior, on behalf of the Deepwater Horizon Natural Resource Damage (NRDA) Trustees, released a Draft Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) for approximately $627 million of early restoration projects across the Gulf Coast. While the projects were initially proposed in May, over the past six months, the Trustees have been preparing a PEIS to evaluate the broad impacts of the projects. The PEIS includes $318 million for barrier island restoration projects and $22 million for marine fisheries research and science in Louisiana.

A NOAA veterinarian prepares to clean an oiled Kemp's Ridley turtle. As part of the NRDA process, NOAA assesses injuries to marine life.

A NOAA veterinarian prepares to clean an oiled Kemp's Ridley turtle. As part of the NRDA process, NOAA assesses injuries to marine life.

The Natural Resource Damage Assessment is the scientific and legal process to assess and quantify injuries to natural resources and services following oil spills. Trustees from the five Gulf states and four federal agencies are conducting the process for the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. While the full NRDA for the spill is ongoing, the Trustees and BP reached an agreement in April 2011 to begin an early restoration program to restore resources and services immediately and acutely harmed by the oil spill.

The early restoration process is guided by a contract signed by the Trustees and BP known as the Early Framework Agreement, whereby BP committed to provide up to $1 billion in early restoration funds. Two phases of funding were announced prior to the latest $627 million announcement. In Phase I, Louisiana received funds for the Lake Hermitage Marsh Creation Project and for oyster hatcheries in Plaquemines and Terrebonne Parishes.  Phase II contained $9 million in sea turtle and bird habitat restoration projects in Alabama, Mississippi and Florida.

Phase III contains the largest and most diverse suite of projects across the Gulf. In Louisiana, four barrier islands will be restored through $318 million in funds proposed under the Louisiana Outer Coast Restoration project set.” Once the PEIS is complete for Phase III, the Trustees will begin work to restore beach, dune and back barrier marsh on Caillou Lake Headlands (also known as Whiskey Island), Chenier Ronquille, Shell Island (West Lobes and portions of East Lobe) and the North Breton Island. These islands provide important habitat for brown pelicans, terns, skimmers and gulls. Barrier islands also have the potential to buffer storm surge and wave action and thus serve as a first line of defense for coastal communities and infrastructure.

An oiled shoreline in Barataria Bay, Louisiana.

An oiled shoreline in Barataria Bay, Louisiana.

Restoring these islands will require an enormous amount of sediment. Almost 7,500 tons of sand, silt and clay will be pumped from various locations offshore or in the Mississippi River to provide the material for these restoration projects. In all, these projects will restore nearly 2,500 acres of barrier island habitat. Before sediment pumping can begin, containment dikes need to be constructed. Containment dikes give new sediment time to settle and compact, allowing sediment-stabilizing vegetation to grow. These structures are very important because they lessen the impact of ocean currents and waves that lead to the erosion of these newly established island sediments. The containment dikes will generally degrade over time as the island becomes more stable and more vegetation grows.

After the islands have been restored, sand fencing will be installed, to help trap and retain wind-blown sediments and help foster the development of sand dunes, and native vegetation will be planted. Sand dunes are important to the long-term maintenance of barrier islands because they serve as a reservoir of sand from which a beach can replenish itself after a storm. Dunes can also lessen wave energy by breaking waves before they reach shore and, along with “back-barrier marsh,” (the salt marsh on the backside of a barrier island) have the potential to buffer storm surge by absorbing and retaining water.

These barrier island restoration projects were selected for NRDA early restoration because many of them were the first landmasses to be oiled by the Deepwater Horizon spill. But it is important to have these projects constructed quickly, so that Louisiana’s communities can have their first line of defense intact.

To make sure this happens, we encourage you to urge the NRDA Trustee Council by February 4, 2014, either in writing online or at one of the public meetings, to advance these critical Louisiana restoration projects as expeditiously as possible.

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The Billion Dollar Question: Who pays for MRGO ecosystem restoration?

December 10, 2013 | Posted by Delta Dispatches in Army Corps of Engineers, Community Resiliency, Hurricane Katrina, Mississippi River Gulf Outlet, Water Resources Development Act (WRDA)

By Amanda Moore, National Wildlife Federation

Last Tuesday, the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority authorized the state attorney general to file suit against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in an effort to get the federal government to pick up 100 percent of the expense for the federal plan for ecosystem restoration of damage caused by the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO). Since 2008, there has been an ongoing dispute between the state and the Corps involving interpretation of Water Resources and Development Act (WRDA) of 2007 legislation, in which Congress directed the Corps to develop a plan for restoration of the MRGO ecosystem at full federal expense.

The $3 billion plan, mandated for completion by May of 2008, was finally completed in 2012. Yet, there is still disagreement over what cost share Congress intended, leaving this critical federal restoration effort at a standstill. The state contends that construction is a 100 percent federal expense, while the Corps contends that the typical cost share on restoration projects, 65 percent federal and 35 percent state, applies. This billion dollar question will now be determined by a judge.

Degraded marsh at lower end of the Central Wetlands near the MRGO.

Degraded marsh at lower end of the Central Wetlands near the MRGO.

The MRGO Must Go Coalition, a group of 17 conservation and neighborhood organizations working since 2006 to see the MRGO closed and the ecosystem restored, has researched this cost share issue for several years. We believe that Congress intended  for the MRGO projects under WRDA to be at 100 percent federal cost for construction, responding to the catastrophic flooding of New Orleans and St. Bernard Parish during Katrina and the devastating role the MRGO played in this event.

Given the extent and urgency of the restoration needs, however, we call on the state of Louisiana, the Corps and potentially other federal agencies to work together to identify all available funding sources and ensure restoration moves forward in a timely manner. All parties involved should be present to work, first and foremost, to ensure timely implementation of comprehensive MRGO ecosystem restoration, as mandated by Congress. We are painfully aware that, every day, the MRGO ecosystem further deteriorates and communities remain at risk.

We welcome this opportunity for the federal court to resolve the cost share dispute. But no matter how the ruling comes down, the bigger question remains: Where will the funds come from to pay for the $3 billion in restoration projects outlined in the MRGO ecosystem restoration plan? Billions of dollars will have to be appropriated by Congress. It is our job, as stakeholders in the resiliency and safety of the Greater New Orleans Area and as citizens who care about justice being served for the communities and ecosystem torn apart by the MRGO, to ensure that our leaders in Congress clearly understand the importance of this restoration effort and that they find the will to get it done. Learn more and take action at www.MRGOmustGO.org.

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Deepwater Horizon Trustees Release Draft Early Restoration Plan

December 6, 2013 | Posted by Elizabeth Skree in BP Oil Disaster, Media Resources, Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA)

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

Deepwater Horizon Trustees Release Draft Early Restoration Plan

 Natural Resource Damage Assessment Process Moves Forward

(New Orleans, LA—December 6, 2013) Today, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell announced that the Deepwater Horizon Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) Trustees have released their draft Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) and their draft Restoration Plan for Phase III of early NRDA restoration projects. These projects, which were first announced April 30, will be funded through the $1 billion early NRDA funds that BP agreed to invest in restoration of damaged natural resources resulting from the 2010 Gulf oil disaster.

Leading national and local conservation organizations working on Mississippi River Delta restoration — Environmental Defense Fund, National Wildlife Federation, National Audubon Society, Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation and the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana — released the following statement in response:

“More than three years after the largest oil spill in our nation’s history, today’s announcement is a positive step toward healing the battered Gulf. The Natural Resource Damage Assessment process moving forward through release of the PEIS signifies progress toward restoration. We encourage the NRDA trustees, BP and stakeholders to continue working together to implement these early restoration projects and help revive the Gulf Coast’s struggling natural resources.

“The trustees’ commitment to funding environmental projects in Louisiana, including nearly $320 million proposed for barrier island restoration, is an exciting advancement toward restoring the Mississippi River Delta. Barrier islands provide critical storm protection and are the first line of defense for New Orleans and other coastal communities. They also provide habitat for migrating birds and other wildlife, including the Louisiana brown pelican. These early restoration funds will help rebuild four barrier islands, including the Breton Island National Wildlife Refuge, which was ground zero during the oil spill.

“We look forward to reviewing and providing public comments on the draft PEIS and to working with the NRDA Trustees during the public comment period and the implementation stage to complete these vital restoration efforts. The communities and economies of the Gulf Coast and Mississippi River Delta have waited long enough for restoration, and these early restoration projects are a key step toward fairness and recovery.”

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Mississippi River Delta Restoration Coalition submits comments on proposed RESTORE Act Treasury regulations

November 19, 2013 | Posted by Delta Dispatches in 2012 Coastal Master Plan, BP Oil Disaster, Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council, RESTORE Act

By Whit Remer and Elizabeth Weiner, Environmental Defense Fund

Earlier this month, the Restore the Mississippi River Delta Coalition submitted public comments to the U.S. Department of Treasury (Treasury) on a proposed rule governing disbursements from the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Trust Fund. The Trust Fund was established by the RESTORE Act, enacted in 2012, and is funded by 80 percent of the civil Clean Water Act penalties that have been, and will be, paid by the parties responsible for the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil disaster. The Act mandates that the Trust Fund be housed within and managed by Treasury and requires that Treasury propose and finalize a rule, with input from the public, regarding its management protocols. This is common practice for federal trust fund management. It is important because funding cannot be disbursed from the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Trust Fund for urgently needed Gulf restoration until the rule promulgation process is complete.

Surveying oil sargassum. NOAA.

Surveying oil sargassum during the 2010 Gulf oil disaster. Creidt: NOAA.

Multiple federal rules, developed in similar manners, are necessary to implement the RESTORE Act. They may overlap with other implementation documents and reiterate statutory language. We believe that when overlap exists, the entities involved should ensure as much consistently and clarity as possible. For example, the RESTORE Act language and the Final Initial Comprehensive Plan direct the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council’s funding allocation exclusively to ecosystem restoration projects. Our comments suggested that the language and instruction in the final Treasury rule could more clearly reflect that specific direction from Congress and the Council.

As part of its management role, Treasury must also develop a compliance and auditing program – compliance on the front end to verify that grant applications comply with statutory requirements, and auditing on the back end to ensure that applicants did what they said they would do with the funds. Within Treasury, the Treasury RESTORE program will handle some aspects of this, and Treasury Inspector General will handle others. Because of the RESTORE Act’s unique structure with different funding components, the Council also has compliance and auditing authorities. Our comments urged Treasury to more clearly delineate the compliance and auditing roles of each of these federal entities so as to minimize delays and duplication and maximize the amount of funding that can be spent directly on restoration efforts.

Louisiana's coastal crisis. CPRA.

Louisiana predicted land loss (red) and land gain (green) over the next 50 years. Credit: Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority.

Our comments also encouraged Treasury to consider adopting Louisiana’s 2012 Coastal Master Plan as the RESTORE Act’s mandatory state expenditure plan. To receive funds from the Spill Impact Component, states must submit a multi-year expenditure plan that describes each program, project and activity for which the state seeks funding. Due to Louisiana’s substantial land loss crisis, the state has already developed a science-based planning process. The most recent product of that process is the 2012 Master Plan for a Sustainable Coast. The State of Louisiana has dedicated, by state law, all funds from the RESTORE Act to its constitutionally protected Coastal Restoration and Protection Fund to be spent solely on projects in this plan. Recognizing that projects in the master plan still have to be sequenced for the purpose of serving as a RESTORE multi-year plan, we have advocated that the Plan meets, and often exceeds, the requirements of the State Expenditure Plan. If Treasury accepts the master plan process as compliant with the process set forth in the rule, the State of Louisiana will be ready to apply for RESTORE funds and utilize grant dollars more quickly.

Over the next few weeks, Treasury will read and consider comments submitted by the public as they prepare the final rule for the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Fund. The Council will also have to promulgate a rule regarding the RESTORE Act Spill Impact Component.

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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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Recap: Week Two of Phase II of BP Oil Spill Trial

October 10, 2013 | Posted by Delta Dispatches in BP Oil Disaster, Clean Water Act, RESTORE Act

By Whit Remer, Policy Analyst, Environmental Defense Fund

BP and the U.S. Department of Justice sparred in federal court this week over how much oil gushed into the Gulf of Mexico during the 87-day Gulf oil disaster during a part of the trial named the Quantification Segment. Last week, BP defended its multiple engineering attempts to stop the oil leak during the Source Control Segment. Both of these segments make up the second phase of trial, which was originally expected to last four weeks but may wrap up sooner. The first phase, which focused on the cause of the Deepwater Horizon rig explosion, concluded in April 2013 after nearly two months in the courtroom. A yet to be scheduled third phase will focus on penalties in the case, which could reach the tens of billions of dollars.

Macondo well blowout

This week during the Quantification Segment, presiding Judge Carl Barbier has been hearing expert testimony from each side on the amount of oil spilled. BP is contending that 3.1 million barrels were released, while the U.S. government believes the number is closer to 4.9 million barrels. Both sides have agreed not to fine BP for 810,000 barrels that the company collected during the spill. BP was able to sell around 65,000 barrels of that collected oil, fetching approximately $4.5 million, which was placed in a trust fund for wildlife rehabilitation.

Experts testifying in the case specialize in fields such as hydrology, petroleum engineering and thermodynamic modeling. Judge Barbier will weigh evidence offered by these experts on possible daily flow rates and the total amount of oil spilled. On Monday and Tuesday, experts for the U.S. testified about pressure levels in the geologic formation that contained the oil where the Macondo well was being drilled. Pressure in the rock formation gives scientists an idea about how much oil could be released each day. BP argued that calculating the flow of oil from the Macondo well was possibly slowed by obstructions resulting from the rig collapse like sheared metal components. The U.S. called Stewart Griffiths, a fluid dynamics expert, to rebut the argument by testifying that the metal would have likely eroded within hours or days of the blowout.

Another complicating factor in determining the amount of oil spilled is distinguishing between solid oil and gas. Video images of oil gushing from the wellhead and broken riser pipe were played around the world during the disaster (check out the video below for clips of the spill and a timeline of events). The gushing brown stream consisted of both solid oil and gas, known collectively as hydrocarbons. Under the Clean Water Act – the primary law controlling the Quantification Segment of trail – BP can only be fined for the release of solid oil, not gas.

To help determine how much of the release consisted of solid oil, the U.S. called Aaron Zick, an independent contractor who specializes in thermodynamic modeling of oil and gas formations, to the stand. Zick offered a complex formula to help distinguish solid oil from gas when analyzing potential flow rates at the well head. The formula had to be adapted for deep sea pressure readings because the extreme differences in temperature at the ocean floor. The hydrocarbon mixture is nearing boiling when it enters the freezing ocean. The extreme reactions make the analyses more difficult than those tested in shallow water.

Chemistry class aside, the Quantification Segment is important because BP will be fined under the Clean Water Act based on how much solid oil entered the Gulf of Mexico. Through the federal RESTORE Act, that fine money will be used for environmental and economic restoration activities along the Gulf Coast.

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