Archive for RESTORE Act


West Maurepas Freshwater Diversion Project

December 5, 2014 | Posted by lbourg in 2012 Coastal Master Plan, Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council, Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA), RESTORE Act, Water Resources Development Act (WRDA)

Louisiana recently proposed 5 projects to be funded by the initial round of funding from the RESTORE Act.  The West Maurepas Freshwater Diversion project’s objective, also known as the Mississippi River Reintroduction into Maurepas Swamp project, is to restore and enhance the health and sustainability of the Maurepas Swamp through the reintroduction of season Mississippi River inflow. Here’s what we wrote to the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, in support of the West Maurepas Freshwater Diversion project:

Dear Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority members,

The undersigned groups appreciate the opportunity to share our supporting comments on the River Reintroduction into Maurepas Swamp Project, submitted by the State of Louisiana for RESTORE Council consideration for the first Funded Priorities List of the RESTORE Pot 2 Council-selected projects.

We represent a coalition of conservation interests that have worked for decades to restore a healthy Gulf of Mexico ecosystem – starting with prompt restoration of the Mississippi River Delta – reconnecting the Mississippi River to its delta to protect communities, environment, and economies. Our groups continue to recommend urgent action on projects that will reduce land loss and restore wetlands in the Mississippi River Delta through comprehensive restoration actions that have the potential to provide multiple benefits and services over the long term to the entire Gulf of Mexico.

Most of the necessary restoration actions to be undertaken in Louisiana are already fully authorized under the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 2007, were unanimously approved by the Louisiana legislature in the 2012 Coastal Master Plan, enjoy broad public support, and have been vetted by scientists and lawmakers for many years.

Such is the case with the River Reintroduction into the Maurepas Swamp Project.

The River Reintroduction into Maurepas Swamp Project has long been discussed as an important coastal restoration project: it was featured as a key restoration project in the 1998 “Coast 2050” plan, was further developed in the Coastal Wetlands Planning Protection and Restoration Act (CWPPRA) program with EPA as its sponsor, was included in the LCA (Louisiana Coastal Area) Study (WRDA 2007) and the Louisiana 2007 Coastal Master Plan, and is currently included in Louisiana’s 2012 Coastal Master Plan (named the “West Maurepas Diversion”).

This project would benefit the western Maurepas swamps, the landbridge between Lakes Maurepas and Pontchartrain and the LaBranche wetlands. In addition, this project, in conjunction with the Central Wetlands diversions, will influence the Biloxi Marsh area.

Dominated by bald cypress and water tupelo trees, this swamp complex is one of the largest forested wetlands in the nation. Levees constructed along the river and the closure of Bayou Manchac have isolated the area from spring floods and the vital fresh water, nutrients and sediments that once enhanced the swamp. This isolation has led to a decrease in swamp elevation, that coupled with rising salinities throughout the Pontchartrain Basin have left the swamp in a state of rapid decline – trees are dying and young trees are not regenerating. The River Reintroduction into Maurepas Swamp Project will reconnect the swamps to the river, preventing further loss and the conversion to open water, as well as helping to temper rising salinities throughout the entire Pontchartrain Basin.

Applying funds to the project now, toward completion of the remaining engineering, design, and permitting, will finally take the River Reintroduction into Maurepas Swamp Project to a construction-ready status. And, given its development history, this project would seem a perfect candidate for CPRA to conduct in collaboration with EPA, with some assistance from Corps of Engineers regulatory and restoration teams.

In conclusion, the 2012 Coastal Master Plan data demonstrated that the swamp could be completely lost in a mere two decades. Due to the urgency of getting this project constructed and operating, the below signatories commend Louisiana’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority for submitting, and we urge the RESTORE Council to select this project for funding.

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Biloxi Marsh Oyster Reef Restoration Project

| Posted by lbourg in Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council, Restoration Projects, RESTORE Act, Water Resources Development Act (WRDA)

Louisiana recently proposed 5 projects to be funded by the initial round of funding from the RESTORE Act.  The Biloxi Marsh Oyster Reef Restoration  project, also known as the Biloxi Marsh Living Shoreline project, will construct an oyster barrier reef along the southern and eastern shores of the Biloxi Marsh. This reef will provide a natural protective barrier to reduce the damaging effects of storm surges and provide wave attenuation. Here’s what we wrote to the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, in support of the Biloxi Marsh Oyster Reef Restoration project:

Dear Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority members,

The undersigned groups appreciate this opportunity to share our collective supporting comments on the Biloxi Marsh Oyster Reef Project, submitted by the State of Louisiana for RESTORE Council consideration for the first Funded Priorities List of the RESTORE Pot 2 Council-selected projects.

We represent a coalition of conservation interests that have worked for decades to restore a healthy Gulf of Mexico ecosystem – starting with prompt restoration of the Mississippi River Delta – reconnecting the Mississippi River to its delta to protect communities, environment, and economies. Our groups continue to recommend urgent action on projects that will reduce land loss and restore wetlands in the Mississippi River Delta through comprehensive restoration actions that have the potential to provide multiple benefits and services over the long term to the entire Gulf of Mexico.

Most of the necessary restoration actions to be undertaken in Louisiana are already fully authorized under the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 2007, were unanimously approved by the Louisiana legislature in the 2012 Coastal Master Plan, enjoy broad public support, and have been vetted by scientists and lawmakers for many years. In the case of the Biloxi Marsh Oyster Reef Project, it has a completed Programmatic EIS and a signed Chief’s Report from the Corps of Engineers.

The Biloxi Marsh platform is relatively stable and enjoys a fairly low rate of subsidence; however, erosion on the marsh edge by wave action has resulted in significant loss of this wetlands habitat over time. Construction of an oyster barrier reef along the southern and eastern shores of the Biloxi Marsh will provide a natural protective barrier to reduce the damaging effects of storm surges and provide wave attenuation. In addition to providing protection against waves, oyster reefs also provide a myriad of ecosystem services including water quality enhancement and benefits to fish populations in both Breton Sound and Mississippi Sound.

Reestablishment of vertical oyster reefs in Biloxi Marsh, in conjunction with the reintroduction of small amounts of river water (River Reintroduction into Maurepas Swamp, Central Wetlands diversions), will help slow marsh deterioration. Additionally, once established, unlike rock and other materials, these reefs are naturally self-maintaining.

Our groups support the development of the Biloxi Marsh Oyster Reef Project—and the concept of living shorelines in general—and commend the selection of this important “line of defense” by the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority. We look forward to the construction of this project within the next few years as funding becomes available.

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West Grand Terre Beach Nourishment & Stabilization Project

December 3, 2014 | Posted by lbourg in Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council, Restoration Projects, RESTORE Act

“Louisiana recently proposed five projects to be funded by the initial round of funding from the RESTORE ActWest Grand Terre Beach Nourishment & Stabilization Project is part of the larger “Barataria Pass to Sandy Point Barrier Island Restoration,” a project we believe is critical to the Louisiana coast and to the whole Gulf Coast. Here’s what we wrote to the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, in support of the West Grand Terre project:”

Dear Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority members,

The undersigned groups appreciate this opportunity to share our collective supporting comments on the West Grand Terre Beach Nourishment and Stabilization Project, submitted by the State of Louisiana for RESTORE Council consideration for the first Funded Priorities List of the RESTORE Pot 2 Council-selected projects.

We represent a coalition of conservation interests that have worked for decades to restore a healthy Gulf of Mexico ecosystem – starting with prompt restoration of the Mississippi River Delta – reconnecting the Mississippi River to its delta to protect communities, environment, and economies. Our groups continue to recommend urgent action on projects that will reduce land loss and restore wetlands in the Mississippi River Delta through comprehensive restoration actions that have the potential to provide multiple benefits and services over the long term to the entire Gulf of Mexico.

West Grand Terre Barrier Island is part of the barrier island chain separating the productive and economically important Barataria Bay estuary from the Gulf of Mexico. These islands provide habitat for migratory birds, wildlife, and fish. They also serve as the first line of defense in protecting nearby coastal communities from devastating storm surge as well as protecting the interior coastal habitats of Barataria Bay, which includes bottomland hardwood forests, cypress swamps, marshes ranging from fresh to saltwater, from high energy waves and saltwater intrusion. However, increasing tidal forces caused by ever-growing interior bays, canals, navigation channels, subsidence, wave action and sea level rise have all attributed to the erosion and retreat of these barrier islands. This erosion has led to loss of the island and back marsh habitats and threatened the entire interior Barataria Bay estuarine ecosystem.

The West Grand Terre Beach Nourishment and Marsh Stabilization Project provides the Council with an opportunity to fund one project within a larger effort to restore the Barataria Basin Barrier Shoreline. Other reaches of the shoreline have been or will be funded through state surplus funds, the Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection and Restoration Act (CWPPRA), Coastal Impact Assistance Program (CIAP) and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF). Together these individual projects will re-establish 2 barrier shorelines critical for protecting nearby communities, will restore important migratory and shore bird habitat and will improve the ecosystem function of the barrier island system, preventing the wholesale loss of the lower Barataria Bay estuary.

Our groups support the development of the West Grand Terre Beach Nourishment and Marsh Stabilization Project. We commend the selection of this important segment of the Barataria Bay Barrier Shoreline by the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority. We look forward to the construction of this project within the next few years as funding becomes available.

 

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Conservation Organizations Respond to RESTORE Council Release of Gulf Coast Restoration Project Proposals

December 1, 2014 | Posted by Elizabeth Van Cleve in Media Resources, Restoration Projects, RESTORE Act

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CONTACTS: Elizabeth Van Cleve, Environmental Defense Fund, 202.553.2543, evancleve@edf.org
Emily Guidry Schatzel, National Wildlife Federation, 225.253.9781, schatzele@nwf.org
Lauren Bourg, National Audubon Society, 504.264.6862, lbourg@audubon.org

Conservation Organizations Respond to RESTORE Council Release of Gulf Coast Restoration Project Proposals
Council should select projects that provide maximum benefit to Gulf Coast ecosystem

(New Orleans—December 1, 2014) Today, the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council (Council) released its list of project and program proposals to be considered for funding with select penalty money from the 2010 Gulf oil disaster. Council members, representing each of the five Gulf states and six federal agencies, were allowed to submit up to five proposals each for consideration by the Council. National and local conservation organizations committed to Mississippi River Delta and Gulf Coast restoration – Environmental Defense FundNational Wildlife FederationNational Audubon SocietyLake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation and the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana – issued the following statement:

“Now the focus shifts to the decision-making processes of the RESTORE Council.

“As laid out in the RESTORE Act, this is the only portion of RESTORE funds that is specifically required to be spent without regard for state borders and instead for the good of the Gulf. That makes it essential for the Council to ultimately select restoration projects that provide the maximum benefit to the entire Gulf Coast ecosystem. Projects that work together – providing complementary benefits and sustaining one another – will produce the most robust restoration possible with available funds. To achieve that, we encourage the Council to conduct a comprehensive science-based evaluation, including a ranking of the proposals, using the best science available when selecting projects for funding.

“While this round of funding is only a fraction of the total resources that will become available for Gulf Coast restoration, it is imperative that any projects selected work in tandem to provide the biggest bang for our buck. More than four years after the oil disaster, the wildlife, communities and unique habitats of the Mississippi River Delta and Gulf Coast cannot wait any longer for restoration to begin and deserve nothing less than our best efforts, efficient spending of available funding and science-based project selection. This is the RESTORE Council’s best chance to get it right from the start.”

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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. Composed 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 New Orleans and Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Washington, D.C.; and around the United States. See more at www.mississippiriverdelta.org.

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Public meetings in Louisiana to solicit feedback on RESTORE Council funding distribution

August 29, 2014 | Posted by Ryan Rastegar in Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council, Meetings/Events, RESTORE Act

The green portion refers to the 30% that the RESTORE Council will help distribute.

The State of Louisiana is hosting three meetings in September to increase public awareness around the funding distribution of the RESTORE Act and to request additional feedback and ideas from the public. The Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council, also known as the RESTORE Council, is responsible for distributing 30% of the money directed to the Gulf Coast Restoration Trust Fund. Members of the public are invited to submit formal proposals for projects or programs for funding consideration, to voice support for existing projects, or to provide general feedback on priorities for Gulf restoration at these meetings.

Projects proposed for funding through the Council-selected component must ultimately be submitted by members of the RESTORE Council. Representatives from federal agencies on the RESTORE Council and members of the RESTORE Council staff have been invited to join the State of Louisiana in receiving public input and project ideas. Federal agencies have also been invited to participate in the open house portion of the first two meetings so that members of the public can learn more about opportunities to engage with those agencies.

We invite you to attend one of the following meetings to learn about the process and to discuss your ideas:

Thursday, September 4, 2014 
University of New Orleans Homer Hitt Alumni Center
2000 Lakeshore Drive
New Orleans, LA
5:30 p.m. Open House
6:00 p.m. Formal Meeting (brief background presentation by State of Louisiana followed by listening session

Thursday, September 11, 2014
Houma Municipal Auditorium
880 Verret Street
Houma, LA
5:30 p.m. Open House
6:00 p.m. Formal Meeting (brief background presentation by State of Louisiana followed by listening session)

Wednesday, September 17, 2014
Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority Board Meeting
SEED Center
Willis Noland Room
4310 Ryan Street, 2nd Floor
Lake Charles, LA
9:30 a.m. (dedicated public comment period)

 Public input may also be submitted by phone, mail, or by email at the information below:

Mail: Attn: Jenny Kurz, CPRA, P.O. Box 44027, Baton Rouge, LA, 70804
Phone: Meg Bankston: (225) 342-4844
Email: coastal@la.gov

More information about the project submittal process can be found here.

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Louisiana business community calls for protection of state’s Coastal Trust Fund

May 21, 2014 | Posted by Delta Dispatches in 2012 Coastal Master Plan, Economics, RESTORE Act, State Legislature

By Derek Brockbank, Mississippi River Delta Restoration Campaign Director

Louisiana businesses have long known that a healthy coast is essential to the state’s economy. But a healthy coast means restoration, and restoration takes funding. So it’s no surprise that businesses are lining up to support House Bill 490 (HB 490) in the legislature this year, because this legislation would make sure Louisiana’s Coastal Trust Fund is used only for coastal restoration and protection, with no exceptions.

Michael Hecht, President and CEO of Greater New Orleans, Inc., has outlined why the coast is so important to the Louisiana business community:

“Restoring Louisiana’s coast is existential to our ability to live and work in Greater New Orleans, but we have a unique opportunity to turn this looming crisis into an economic opportunity by harnessing the existing water management, coastal resilience and disaster recovery experience currently existing in Southeast Louisiana and building on it, exporting it, and positioning our region as the international epicenter of the emerging environmental sector.”

Greater New Orleans, Inc. recently released a letter in support of HB 490, where they were joined by 28 business and economic development associations and more than 60 individual businesses that work in Louisiana. In explaining why they supported a bill that was largely about closing a fiscal loophole in how the Coastal Trust Fund is operated, the letter stated:

“As supporters of the RESTORE Act and the State Master Plan process, we know that large-scale coastal restoration is urgently needed to protect our businesses, economic base and communities. Investing in protection and restoration of our coast will reduce storm risk, while also creating jobs and economic opportunities that are important to our members, customers and parishes.”

Todd Murphy, President of the Jefferson Chamber of Commerce, one of the letter signers, explained his support for HB 490 this way:

“Restoring our coast means sustaining the Louisiana economy. Businesses in Jefferson Parish rely on coastal wetlands. We need to protect the integrity of Louisiana’s Coastal Fund by using the Fund as the law intended – to pay for critical protection and restoration projects only.”

The Louisiana State House of Representatives unanimously passed HB 490 on May 5. Now the bill is awaiting a vote in the Senate Finance Committee. With the Senate adjourning on June 2, just a week and a half remains for the bill to be taken up by the Finance Committee and then the full Senate.

Take Action: Tell your Louisiana State Senator to take up and pass HB 490: https://secure2.edf.org/site/Advocacy?cmd=display&page=UserAction&id=2283.

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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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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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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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