Archive for Reports
By our partner, National Wildlife Federation. View the original post here.
Six years ago this week, the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded, killing 11 men and spewing millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico for nearly three months. At the time, many representatives from the Restore the Mississippi River Delta Coalition were on the ground, cataloging the impacts to wildlife and the habitats of the Gulf of Mexico.
Six years later, we are still hard at work. Yesterday, National Wildlife Federation released a new, interactive report that looks at what the most recent science says about the impacts of the disaster, and how we can restore the Gulf.
Some of the impacts described in the report:
- In the first five years after the disaster, more than three-quarters of pregnant bottlenose dolphins in the oiled areas failed to give birth to a live calf.
- As many as 8.3 billion oysters were lost as a result of the oil spill and response effort. The dramatic reduction in oyster populations imperils the sustainability of the oyster fishery in the northern Gulf of Mexico.
- In 2010, the oil spill killed between two and five trillion larval fish.
- The fate of as much as 30 percent of the oil remains unknown to this day.
- Twenty percent of the adult female Kemp’s ridley sea turtles may have been killed during the disaster, possibly explaining the turtles’ low nest counts.
Today, we know more about the devastating impacts of oil than ever before — and we also know more about what we can do to restore the Gulf of Mexico. As a result of the various legal settlements with BP and the other oil companies, more than $16 billion dollars will ultimately be available for environmental restoration.
We need to make sure that this money is used wisely on projects that benefit the Gulf as a whole.
Coastal Louisiana and the wetlands around the Mississippi River Delta — which were already eroding at an alarming rate pre-spill — received the brunt of the oil that hit the coast. Some marshes and barrier islands still have remnants of BP oil, even six years later.
The money from the settlement means that the very areas that were so badly injured stand a chance to rebound— if we use the settlement money to fund comprehensive, science-based restoration.
This year, on the eve of the anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon explosion, staff from the Restore the Mississippi River Delta Coalition took a tour of Shell Island West, a barrier island restoration project in Louisiana funded by early Natural Resource Damage Assessment funds. This project will restore approximately 600 acres of beach, dune, and marsh habitat. It is part of the larger Barataria Basin Barrier Shoreline restoration project, which will rebuild the eroding barrier islands that separate the ecologically and economically important Barataria Bay estuary from the Gulf of Mexico.
Restoring estuaries like Barataria Bay are key to improving the health of the Gulf of Mexico. Barrier islands serve as a first line of defense, protecting coastal communities from hurricanes and tropical storms. They also form protected areas where freshwater from rivers can mix with the saltier waters of the Gulf, creating nursery areas for many species of wildlife. These protected areas contain a variety of habitats – such as marshes or oyster reefs – that are vital for many different species. Therefore, the Shell Island West project will benefit fish and wildlife that use the barrier island and its beach as well as the marsh on its protected side.
But sadly, in many cases, barrier islands like the Shell Island West are eroding rapidly, leaving both people and wildlife vulnerable.
For our long-term protection, we need to rebuild these critical barrier islands while restoring important habitats like wetlands through sediment diversions and marsh creation. Creating a more natural connection between the Mississippi River and Barataria Bay by building controlled sediment diversions will rebuild and restore wetlands — and it will make projects like the marsh creation and barrier island restoration at Shell Island West more sustainable in the long run.No Comments
Looking for the industry with the fastest growth and some of the best-paying jobs in coastal Louisiana?
Saving Louisiana’s vanishing coastline is now the fastest growing industry along Louisiana’s coast, driving economic expansion and eclipsing the oil and gas sector in creating new jobs. Coastal restoration and protection is not only the biggest jobs creator in coastal Louisiana – it has some of the highest-paying jobs, averaging $69,277 per year.
This hot job market is expected to get even hotter as hundreds of millions of dollars from the Gulf oil disaster – funds solely dedicated to restoring and preserving the coast – flow into the state over the next 16 years. These findings and more can be found in a new economic analysis by the Restore the Mississippi River Delta Coalition, based on methodology by The Data Center.
By the numbers:
Southeast Louisiana: Jobs in water management – which includes coastal restoration, coastal protection and urban water management – have exploded in recent years, totaling more than 32,000 jobs in southeast Louisiana alone. By comparison, oil and gas provides 26,000 jobs to the region.
As Louisiana emerged from the depths of the recession in 2010, the growth in the water management industry demonstrates that this sector will be a critical driver of prosperity for the state’s future. Coastal restoration has created more than 5,700 new jobs in the region since 2010 and is expected to continue to grow.
Southwest Louisiana: Though oil and gas remains the largest economic driver in southwest Louisiana, coastal restoration has seen a significantly higher net gain of jobs since 2010 and is now the second largest economic driver in the region.
The coastal restoration and protection industry has remained stable in southwest Louisiana at 12,000 jobs since 2014, while oil and gas suffered a net loss of approximately 3,000 jobs between 2014 and 2015. Jobs in water management have experienced a net gain of 3,784 jobs since 2010 in southwest Louisiana.
What’s driving this hot job market?
This industry is growing because of an urgency to restore and protect the wetlands that are Louisiana’s first line of defense against rising seas and storms, combined with the hundreds of millions of dollars from the BP oil spill settlement and pollution penalties – money dedicated to coastal restoration – as well as Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act (GOMESA) funds and other sources coming to the state.
Coastal restoration not only helps to protect the people, industries and wildlife that call Louisiana’s coast home, it also fuels economic growth faster than any other single business sector in the region. The industry also provides good-paying jobs for Louisianians, averaging $69,277 per year. Investment in water management is a major win-win for the people, environment and economy of south Louisiana.
About this report
The analysis was conducted by the Restore the Mississippi River Delta Coalition, which includes Environmental Defense Fund, National Audubon Society, National Wildlife Federation, Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation and Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana. It was produced using The Data Center’s methodology.
Learn why coastal restoration is urgently needed to protect and grow businesses in Louisiana and across the Gulf. Visit OurCoastOurEconomy.org.No Comments
Water Management Industry Eclipses Oil & Gas as Jobs Leader in SE Louisiana, 2nd Across Coastal ZoneFebruary 24, 2016 | Posted by Elizabeth Van Cleve in coastal restoration, Economics, Economy, Job Creation, Media Resources, Reports
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Elizabeth Van Cleve, Environmental Defense Fund, 202.553.2543, email@example.com
Emily Guidry Schatzel, National Wildlife Federation, 225.253.9781, firstname.lastname@example.org
Jacques Hebert, National Audubon Society, 504.264.6849, email@example.com
Jimmy Frederick, Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana, 225.317.2046, firstname.lastname@example.org
John Lopez, Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, 504.421.7348, email@example.com
Water Management Industry Eclipses Oil and Gas as Jobs Leader in Southeast Louisiana, Second Across Entire Coastal Zone
Rapidly growing industry brings high-paying jobs, helps grow Louisiana economy
(NEW ORLEANS – February 25, 2016) The water management sector represents the largest economic driver in southeast Louisiana and the second largest in southwest Louisiana, according to new analysis released today by the Restore the Mississippi River Delta Coalition. Economic drivers, such as water management, oil and gas, maritime, petrochemical, video production, and hospitality and tourism, are industries that drive regional growth and are indicators of economic development. With nearly 44,000 jobs, water management is the second largest industry driver across the entire Louisiana Coastal Zone – second only to oil and gas. In southeast Louisiana, the water management industry has eclipsed the oil and gas, maritime and hospitality industries as the leading jobs creator.
The water management industry is growing faster than any other major sector within Louisiana’s Coastal Zone and has the highest average wage among driver industries – $69,277 per year. And while other industries have been losing jobs, water management – which includes coastal restoration, coastal protection and urban water management – has added more than 5,700 jobs in southeast Louisiana since 2010 and provides significant opportunities for Louisiana workers.
Also today, Greater New Orleans, Inc. released its State of the Sector report on the water management industry. This analysis focuses on specifics of current and future water management workforce/job opportunities over the next ten years in the Greater New Orleans region. The report includes detailed information on current workforce demographics, projected top middle and high skill occupations, and sample career ladders. The report also provides insights into the factors driving growth and determining the current and future water management workforce needs in southeast Louisiana. See more at http://gnoinc.org/stateofthesector.
“As our state works to address its budget challenges, it is important to remember that investing in coastal restoration will create jobs and grow the economy, in addition to protecting existing businesses and communities,” said David Muth, National Wildlife Federation’s Gulf Restoration Director, representing the Restore the Mississippi River Delta Coalition. “Investments made today in water management will more than pay off in the long run as our region becomes an economic hub for coastal restoration and climate resiliency, while also helping to protect the people, industries and wildlife that call coastal Louisiana home.”
With the influx of funds from the Gulf oil disaster and other federal sources, the water management sector is poised to continue to grow, fueling the economy of coastal Louisiana and the entire state. In addition to creating well-paying jobs in state, this sector has the potential to be a major export industry for our region, like that of technology for Silicon Valley. Coastal restoration and resiliency expertise gained in Louisiana can be exported to other coastal regions around the world facing similar threats from land subsidence and sea level rise.
“This data confirms that water management is the fastest growing sector in Louisiana. If we make the right decisions and protect coastal funding in the years ahead, we have a golden opportunity to set our region on a course of greater economic prosperity and improved environmental health for generations to come,” said Muth.
The analysis was produced by the Restore the Mississippi River Delta Coalition, which includes Environmental Defense Fund, National Audubon Society, National Wildlife Federation, Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation and Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana. The full analysis can be found on our website here.
Learn why coastal restoration is urgently needed to protect and grow businesses in Louisiana and across the Gulf. Visit OurCoastOurEconomy.org.
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. Learn more at MississippiRiverDelta.org and connect with us on Facebook and Twitter.No Comments
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Samantha Carter, National Wildlife Federation, 504.264.6831, firstname.lastname@example.org
Emily Guidry Schatzel, National Wildlife Federation, 225.253.9781, email@example.com
Raleigh Hoke, Gulf Restoration Network, 573.795.1916, firstname.lastname@example.org
A Resilient, Sustainable New Orleans
A Decade after Katrina, Groups Issue Recommendations for Community Protection, Restoration
(New Orleans – August 11, 2015) To commemorate the upcoming 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, a coalition of local community and conservation advocacy groups working to restore wetlands around the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO) released a new report today.
The MRGO Must Go Coalition’s report – titled "10th Anniversary of Katrina: Making New Orleans a Sustainable Delta City for the Next Century" – reflects on the progress that has been made since Hurricane Katrina and offers recommendations for ensuring the full protection and long-term resiliency of the Greater New Orleans communities, including implementing a “Multiple Lines of Defense Strategy” to protect coastal communities and wetland habitat.
In conjunction with the report release, members of the MRGO Must Go Coalition released the following statement today:
“Hurricane Katrina brought to the forefront the dire need to improve the resilience of New Orleans and its coastal neighbors. Katrina barreled onshore, churned through MRGO, and wreaked havoc in the Greater New Orleans area – showing us that levees alone are not enough to protect our people, natural resources and economy.
“Today, our coastline continues to disappear at the alarming rate of a football field every hour. As coastal wetlands wash away, with them go our natural defenses. Healthy wetlands and barrier islands serve as natural buffers, defending us against storms. Without slowing down this land loss crisis, we will continue to be vulnerable to storms, sea level rise and the growing risks of climate change.
“Ten years later, we have made great strides toward both restoration and protection. The closure of MRGO, the passing of the 2012 Louisiana Coastal Master Plan, the adoption of an Urban Water Plan and major upgrades to structural protections like levees and storm surge barriers are all true marks of progress for our region.
“However, the critical work to achieve protection and resiliency is really just beginning. We must continue to implement a Multiple Lines of Defense Strategy against storms – including community level planning and preparedness, urban storm water management, and protecting and restoring our coastal wetlands. We must build on the momentum of the last decade and continue to work to make New Orleans a model city for restoration, resiliency and sustainability.”
The MRGO Must Go Coalition was founded in 2006 in response to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The Coalition’s mission is to ensure that the wetlands affected by the MRGO are carefully restored in a timely manner. As of August 2015, the MRGO Must Go Coalition included 17 local and national environmental, social justice and community organizations.
Since its inception, the Coalition has served as a liaison between the communities in Orleans and St. Bernard parishes and the US Army Corps of Engineers and other government agencies. The vast organizational resources and expertise provided by the member organizations allow the Coalition to make informed policy and scientific recommendations on the restoration of the ecosystem impacted by the MRGO. More information can be found at www.MRGOmustGO.org.
By Ezra Boyd, PhD, Disastermap.net, LLC
The Hurricane Surge Risk Reduction System
As we approach the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and the associated levee failures, the people of the Greater New Orleans (GNO) region face constant reminders that our safety and viability depend on a complex system made of numerous elements that together mitigate risks from hurricane induced tidal floods. The near constant construction of levees, pumps and floodgates over the last decade provides the most visible evidence of this system. Together, these components are termed the structural lines of defense. In addition, work on other important, but less visible, components have also reduced our flood risk. Broadly speaking, the other two major components are the coastal lines of defense and the community lines of defense. Together, these three components comprise the Multiple Lines of Defense Strategy for Sustaining Coastal Louisiana (MLODS).
Beyond a list of 12 separate lines of defense (see figure below), MLODS represents a system that allows us to use the professional tools and standards of systems engineering to assess the current status of storm surge risk reduction. Within the field of systems engineering, a system is defined as: “an integrated set of elements, segments and/or subsystems that accomplish a defined objective.” The 12 lines of defense make up the elements of the system, and systems engineering helps us figure out if they function in an integrated fashion to accomplish the objective of managing storm surge risk.
A recent report from the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, called “A Systems Engineering Based Assessment of The Greater New Orleans Hurricane Surge Defense System Using the Multiple Lines-of-Defense Framework,” provides a detailed assessment of the current system of levees, pumps, gates, coastal landscape features and community resilience steps that the region depends upon to manage storm surge flooding risk.
System Interactions and Factors of Concern
Once the Hurricane Surge Defense System (HSDS) has been specified as a system, the tools of systems engineering then allow us to identify system interactions that create major factors of concern. A system interaction refers to when the performance of one system element is impacted by the other elements, while a factor of concern is an element or interaction between elements that could potentially reduce the system performance. The report identified and described a number of system interactions and factors of concern. Two of the major concerns are with the Foot of the Twin Spans bridge and the IHNC/GIWW navigation canal (shown here). Both result from interactions between systems elements that affect evacuation effectiveness.
I-10 East Evacuation Route & Chandeleur Islands
Interstate 10 is a major evacuation route. During peak evacuation, an estimated 2,000 vehicles per hour utilize its eastbound lanes to escape GNO. These eastbound lanes cross Lake Pontchartrain on the edge of New Orleans. Since Hurricane Katrina, the bridge, locally known as the “Twin Spans”, has been rebuilt in an $800 million project that raised the bridge to 30 feet above sea level. Not far from the bridge is the rebuilt levee system that provides perimeter protection for GNO. Between the levee and foot of the bridge is an approximately 1 mile section of interstate that is at ground level and outside the levee system. Most of this section of highway is 7 – 8 feet above sea level. However, just before the foot of the bridge, atop of narrow peninsula that has experienced landloss on all three sides, the highway dips to around 6.7 feet above sea level. This low, unprotected section of a major evacuation route is prone to flooding early during storm surge events, thus blocking any further evacuation.
The Chandeleur Islands, a rapidly eroding barrier island chain, are located some 60 miles from the foot of the Twin Spans bridge. Yet, how they perform as a coastal line of defense affects the performance of the I-10 East evacuation route. Hydrological studies have determined that the elevation and integrity of the Chandeleurs influences the timing and height of the peak surge, with the surge peaking 1.5 feet higher and 1 hour sooner if the islands continue to erode. Exemplifying the concept of system interactions, the Chandeleur’s ability to mitigate storm surge impacts the available window of time to evacuate people using the eastbound I-10.
IHNC/GIWW Closure Operations, Vessel Evacuation, and Vehicular Evacuation
The Inner Harbor Navigation Canal (IHNC) and Gulf Intracoastal Watery (GIWW) are two manmade navigation canals within the eastern half of GNO. During Hurricane Katrina, they were major conveyance pathways for storm surge and also the location of numerous levee breeches. Since Hurricane Katrina, the area has been subject to major levee upgrades along with newly constructed floodwalls and floodgates. While these structural improvements provide a potentially much improved level of protection, the gates in particular create a new set of concerns related to system behavior. They also provide another example of asystem interaction that also affects evacuation effectiveness.
Simply put, closing the gates in anticipation of a tropical system is a complicated procedure that must be coordinated with navigational interests, railroads, and the Port of New Orleans. Most navigational vessels are required to evacuate the IHNC/GIWW before a hurricane. This in-turn requires that the vessels pass under a number of drawbridges. Since the drawbridges must be opened to let vessels pass, they then hinder vehicular evacuation of the general population. Here the operations of these structural components (the flood gates along these two canals) impact the performance of the evacuation component, another example of a system interaction that creates a major factor of concern.
These are just two of many factors of concern with the current HSDS. Our report documents others, some small and others major. Maintenance, long term funding, coordination, and public risk communication were the major themes uncovered in our study. Because it is important for the public and policymakers to understand the true level of protection, LPBF continues to build on the momentum create by this report. As step toward addressing some of the issues identified in the report, we have recently launched the Pontchartrain-Maurepas Surge Consortium to facilitate regional collaboration between levees boards, floodplains managers, coastal scientists, and others engaged in storm surge management and risk reduction.
The report, along with LPBF’s continuing efforts at implementing MLODS for coastal flood protection, has been funded by the Kresge Foundation.
Additional resources:No Comments
By John Lopez, Ph.D., Coastal Sustainability Program Director, Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation
The Lake Pontchartain Basin Foundation (LPBF) is releasing a report describing the methodology of its Hydrocoast Maps program, a research effort that began in 2012 and monitors water flow, salinity and other factors to better understand the Mississippi River estuary in the Pontchartrain Basin.
What are the Hydrocoast Maps?
The Hydrocoast Maps monitor the distribution of salinity, changes in water quality, and other pertinent information across the Pontchartrain Basin to provide an ongoing, relevant and accurate assessment of basin conditions. LPBF produces a biweekly map series that displays information on salinity, freshwater discharge, water quality, impairments, fisheries activity and a variety of estuarine-related information.
The Hydrocoast Maps provide a snapshot of the condition of the estuary, such as the distribution of saline to fresh water and other relevant factors. LPBF’s goal is for the maps to be useful to a diverse audience – including the general public, but more specifically commercial and recreational fishers, state and federal agency personnel making restoration decisions, scientists and academics.
The biweekly Hydrocoast Map products, and what they analyze, include:
- Salinity Map – isohalines (lines on maps connecting points of equal salinity) and freshwater inflows
- Biological Map – fisheries fleets and closures
- Habitat Map – wetland classification and soil salinity
- Water Quality Map – water quality impairments and fecal coliform counts
- Weather Map – cumulative rainfall, wind and tide data
Current and archived Hydrocoast Maps can be found here.
The Mississippi River Estuary
On the Louisiana coast, fresh water from rainfall and rivers flows seaward and mixes with salt water from the Gulf of Mexico, resulting in a coastal zone called an estuary. This estuarine system also coincides with the extensive deltaic (wetland) plain of the Mississippi River and gives rise to Louisiana’s valuable and productive “working coast.” There are many factors that affect this estuary, such as pollution, fisheries, hydrologic alterations, wetland loss and freshwater inflows. These influences are dynamic and the estuary is shifting daily, but it is also undergoing long-term changes. For example, since 1932 these wetlands have been converting to open water at an unnatural and alarming rate, giving rise to Louisiana’s coastal wetland crisis.
Understanding all of these natural and manmade influences on the estuary is important for local recreational and commercial fisheries, as well as for restoration scientists who may gain a deeper understanding of how the estuary functions and its trajectory of change. Change is inevitable, but we should use the best available data to work with the deltaic system and bring about comprehensive restoration of the Mississippi River DeltaNo Comments
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NOAA Study Confirms BP Oil Spill Led to Dolphin Deaths in Northern Gulf of Mexico
Leading Conservation Groups Call on BP to Accept Responsibility for Continued Environmental Damage
(New Orleans, LA—May 20, 2015) Today, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released a peer-reviewed study confirming that the 2010 Gulf oil disaster contributed to an increase in dolphin deaths in the northern Gulf of Mexico. Examining dolphins, including those in Barataria Bay, La. – an area hit particularly hard with heavy oil in 2010 – scientists found that contaminants from petroleum in BP oil caused lung and adrenal lesions that led to death in these dolphins.
In response, national and local conservation groups working on Mississippi River Delta and Gulf Coast restoration, including Environmental Defense Fund, National Audubon Society, National Wildlife Federation and the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation, issued the following statement:
“BP has spent millions of dollars trying to dodge responsibility and convince the American public that wildlife and habitat in the Gulf were minimally impacted by its hundreds of millions of gallons of oil spilled in 2010. Just two months ago, BP marked the fifth anniversary of the Gulf oil disaster by releasing a report claiming the Gulf had largely recovered from the spill.
“Despite BP’s best claims, this new NOAA study definitively links the increased dolphin deaths in Barataria Bay with the 2010 Gulf oil disaster and is yet another example of the extensive and destructive impact that BP’s oil unleashed on the people, wildlife and environment of the Gulf. Additional scientific research conducted through the Natural Resource Damage Assessment indicates that dolphins – a top predator – are experiencing impacts from BP’s oil and are still dying at higher than normal rates due to oil exposure in the Gulf ecosystem.
“Last fall, BP was found to be grossly negligent for its actions in the Gulf oil disaster. This study is a stark reminder that the oil is still in the Gulf, it’s still causing sickness and death in some species and it’s still affecting the entire ecosystem. It’s time for BP to stop denying the true impacts of the spill and accept responsibility for its actions, so that meaningful restoration can proceed.”
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 recent 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 previous NOAA study found a large number of dead dolphins in heavily oiled places, including Barataria Bay, La.
- Recent studies estimate 1,000,000 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.
- A recent survey found that 70 percent of Americans believe BP should pay maximum fines under the Clean Water Act for its role in the 2010 Gulf oil spill.
This post has been cross-posted from an article originally published on the National Audubon Society’s website
By: Melanie Driscoll, Director of Bird Conservation, Gulf Coast Conservation/Mississippi Flyway, Erik Johnson, Director of Bird Conservation, Audubon Louisiana
A BP-authored report claiming that the Gulf has recovered is inaccurate and insulting—here’s why.
Nearly five years after the largest accidental marine oil spill in U.S. history, BP is doing its best to convince the public that the 4.9 million barrels of oil that leaked into the Gulf of Mexico have done no lasting damage. That’s the message found in The Gulf of Mexico Environmental Recovery and Restoration report the company released three weeks ago.
Based on what the report does present, it’s obvious that BP chose to ignore recent research that shows the ongoing impact of the oil spill, particularly on birds (pp 15-17 of report). That BP ignores peer-reviewed science is nothing new—they have been denying culpability and the validity of peer-reviewed, published research since the spill itself. Meanwhile, their own conclusions lack peer-review and they have not released their methodology. Because of this lack of transparency, BP has made claims that are impossible to refute or verify.
One of the government agencies responsible for monitoring the Gulf health following the oil spill—the NOAA Damage Assessment, Remediation, and Restoration Program—is expected to hold itself to a high standard of independent scientific peer-review as it completes its Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA). While we await the NRDA studies to be completed and released, BP has flaunted such professional standards in its allusions to NRDA findings that cannot be verified at this stage. The trustees of NRDA themselves called BP’s recent report “inappropriate as well as premature.”
Along with others in the scientific community, the National Audubon Society rejects BP’s claims. While their report leaves much to criticize, here are its five main flaws:
- Their conclusions are not credible given lack of peer-review, questionable methodology and premature conclusions.
They claim “search teams likely found 97 percent of large birds and 78 percent of small birds.” These numbers are inconceivable to any researcher or birder who has looked for birds on a beach. It stands to reason that a detection rate of 97 percent as claimed by BP is unlikely, even for living and mobile birds; their estimate seems grossly optimistic compared to detection rates published widely in the scientific literature. In addition, BP compared their estimate of searcher efficiency for carcasses placed on beaches to the searcher efficiency across sandy beach, rocky beach, and marsh habitats. Detection rates are known to vary widely based on factors such as carcass coloration and habitat, and the actual searches in the Deepwater Horizon disaster occurred across marsh, mangrove, rocky beach, and sandy beach habitats. Attacking a single parameter from a complex study, and doing so using an apples-to-oranges comparison, is disingenuous and misleading.
- The Gulf of Mexico ecosystem has not returned to a pre-oil spill “baseline condition”.
First of all, the oil is not gone. Significant deposits (up to 230,000 barrels) of oil have been discovered in the sediment on the Gulf floor. This oil regularly washes ashore during storms, re-oiling marshes and beaches. In October 2014, researchers discovered a 1,250-square-mile “bathtub ring” of oil on the Gulf floor–equivalent to the size of Rhode Island. Indeed, as the BP report was released a 22,000-pound tar mat was being removed from East Grand Terre Island in Barataria Bay, LA.
BP’s conclusions are incredibly premature. With lagged effects, trophic cascades, food web effects, and repeated re-oiling of the coast, we could be seeing surprises and environmental effects for years to come on birds and on the entire ecosystem.
Erosion is forever. Land and crucial habitats have disappeared. It’s impossible to return to a “baseline” when the land that composed that baseline and is crucial to coastal bird populations has disappeared. Studies show that marsh that was heavily oiled was undercut and eroded back, creating ragged marsh edges that were unoiled or lightly oiled. The scientists have then seen a wave of erosion of these unoiled or lightly oiled marsh, as waves reshape the ragged marsh edge to create a new, smoother edge. Not only has much of the heavily oiled marsh eroded, but marsh that was less damaged has followed.
- Damage to birds from the BP oil spill is evident and has been well documented, contrary to what BP reports.
In the 95 days following the oil spill, conservative estimates are that hundreds of thousands to more than a million birds died.
This acute damage does not take into account the molecular, cellular, reproductive, and developmental damage that may accumulate in birds for years to come. That is significant, it is long-term, and it matters.
Birds exposed to oil during their early development may accumulate damage that causes failed reproduction. Additionally, many long-lived species like pelicans, terns, and egrets do not breed until their second, third, or fourth year of life, meaning the young exposed to oil early in their lives hadn’t started breeding in 2011, making BP’s conclusions based on 2011 information premature.
- More studies are needed to understand the ongoing and long-term effects on bird populations.
In other species, lagged and trophic level effects have resulted in increasing effects from oil being detected over time since the disaster. Very few studies on bird productivity have been published that looked beyond the 2010-2011 nesting season. More studies are needed to draw broad conclusions.
Scientifically, the most reliable way to study productivity is to compare productivity of birds exposed to oil and not exposed to oil within the same season. The only study of which we are aware that has used this reliable methodology is a study of the Seaside Sparrow, which showed reduced nest success for sparrows on oiled sites in 2012 and 2013.
- BP’s use of Audubon’s Christmas Bird Count (CBC) data is flawed and their summaries of other data are incomplete and misleading.
BP misused CBC data to obscure potential impacts. It’s likely they used data from well outside the impacted areas. Particularly, Sandwich Terns and Northern Gannets are not counted by CBC participants 10-100 times more than Piping Plovers in the impacted areas. The numbers they used for Red Knots appear to include the entire rufa subspecies, which mainly winters in the Tierra del Fuego region in southern Argentina and the Maranhão region of northeastern Brazil. It is difficult to tell how CBC data were used, but it is clear from the relative abundance of some species that data from outside the Gulf were included in analyses. Using broader data from other regions could mask any local and regional changes in populations due to the oil spill. Without describing their methods, it is apparent that BP’s report represents a misuse of Audubon’s publicly available data.
BP reported oiling rates from long after the oil well was capped, resulting in oiling rates that appear to be very low: In its report, BP cites data saying “researchers saw no visible oil in 99 percent of the roughly 500,000 live bird observations from May 2010 to March 2011.” A study following the Deepwater Horizon spill showed that 8.6 percent of captured shorebirds showed evidence of oiling, indicating that BP’s observational evidence may have underestimated exposure by as much as an order of magnitude.
BP selected a study that appeared to show no effects on birds to highlight a success that is likely just a lack of use of the oiled region: In BP’s reference to the Northern Gannet publication, researchers in this paper used light-level geolocators to determine wintering locations of Northern Gannets. Digging into the details of the paper, it is clear that only a small sample of the researcher’s birds wintered in the Gulf of Mexico (8 birds in their study) and that the Gulf birds foraged in areas primarily >100 miles away from the spill site, i.e., well outside of area of the most devastating impacts. Thus it may be no surprise that these few birds did not show elevated polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (harmful chemicals from oil) levels as they were not in the spill zone. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s published account of bird deaths following the spill paints a different picture—Northern Gannets were one of the most frequently encountered dead bird after the spill.
BP incorrectly concluded from a published study that researchers did not find evidence that variations in age classes of Brown Pelicans on Louisiana barrier islands were related to the oil spill. However, the paper specifically states “…additional research is required to evaluate potential long-term population trends.” Also, “Care should be taken in interpretation of our result as a lack of effect [of oil] on demography because there are combinations of spill-related reductions in fecundity and age-specific mortality that could result in no changes in age structure.” One scenario that’s easy to imagine is that all age classes were reduced similarly. In short, like the authors state, there are many possible scenarios that could influence their findings.
Despite BP’s claims, we may not know the full impact of the oil spill for decades to come. Even more, we will not achieve lasting, meaningful restoration in the Gulf Coast until BP quits stalling, quits the legal and publicity campaign and actually funds full restoration.
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