Five Years After BP Disaster, Gulf Still Vulnerable

 
Birds on grand isle beach

Five years since the beginning of the BP drilling disaster, BP’s oil is still in the Gulf and still impacting the region’s people and environment. Despite some offshore drilling reforms, the Gulf continues to suffer from the impacts of the oil and gas industry and is vulnerable to future major drilling disasters. Restoration efforts have begun, but too little has been done to make sure the communities most impacted by this disaster have a place at the table.

BP’s Impacts: Recent studies have raised serious questions about the long-term health of the Gulf of Mexico in the wake of the BP drilling disaster. Sick and dead dolphins continue to wash up in the BP impact zone. A February 2015 study suggests a link between a three year pattern in dolphin deaths and the BP disaster. Other recent studies have found a 10 million gallon “bath mat” of oil and a reduction in marine life in the area surrounding the BP blowout.

Despite this and other evidence, BP has continued to spend millions on misleading PR and legal wrangling to minimize their liability for the damage. 

Preventing Future Disasters: The BP disaster was one of the latest and greatest environmental threats to the Gulf, but this region has long been an energy sacrifice zone. Even as the Obama Administration has moved to open up portions of the Atlantic and Arctic to oil and gas development, not enough has been done to prevent future accidents and reduce the environmental impacts of oil and gas.

Much of Louisiana’s catastrophic coastal wetlands loss can be linked to oil and gas development, particularly the thousands of miles of pipelines and canals that cut through the coast. And nearly every time Gulf Restoration Network flies over Louisiana’s coast, we document leaks and spills. In fact, the Coast Guard's National Response Center receives around 1,500 oil spill notifications for Louisiana each year, with an average volume of 330,000 gallons spilled per year.

Despite these and other ongoing concerns, many of the safety recommendations from the bi-partisan National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling have either not been implemented at all or not codified into law.

Restoring the Gulf: Restoration is underway in the Gulf, but there is still a long road ahead. BP has committed $1 billion dollars to early restoration as part of the Natural Resource Damage Assessment process approximately $693 million of which has already been designated towards specific projects. To date, the National Fish and Wildlife Federation has initiated 54 projects, totaling nearly $700 million allocated from the criminal penalties to restoration of barrier islands, marshes and other environmental resources. In 2012, Congress passed the RESTORE Act, which ensures that 80% of BP’s Clean Water Act fines will come back to the Gulf for restoration.

Unfortunately, the public has not been provided adequate opportunities to participate in decision making on how restoration funds are used, and politicians are already looking to spend BP restoration dollars on their pet projects. Most notably, Alabama and the NRDA Trustees are moving forward with plans to spend $58.5 million in early restoration NRDA money on a beachfront convention center instead of natural resource restoration.

Restoration dollars from the BP disaster are a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to restore our coastal communities, cultures and environments for future generations and we must not squander this opportunity. 

Five years later, there is still much work to do to restore the Gulf and protect out coast and communities, and Gulf Restoration Network is ready to continue that hard work. I hope you'll continue to support our efforts! 

Across the Gulf, folks are organizing events for a Gulf South Rising Week of Action to observe the BP 5 year memorial. Check out the full list and come to an event! 

Raleigh Hoke is GRN's Communications Director. 

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