New Orleans, LA – On Monday, September 30th, the second phase of the historic Deepwater Horizon disaster trial is set to resume. The first phase of the trial, which concluded in April, was focused on the causes of the blowout, and dividing fault between the companies involved. This second phase of the trial will focus on the effort to stop the oil from flowing and how much oil was released into the Gulf. Combined, these two phases will ultimately determine how much BP and the other responsible parties will pay in total Clean Water Act fines (reference 1). Under the RESTORE Act, 80% of these fines are designated for Gulf restoration. Estimates for the total fines range from $4-18 billion (ref. 2).
BP Low-Balls Amount of Oil Spilled
Throughout the course of the disaster, BP has aggressively moved to low-ball the amount of oil spilled into the Gulf. Initially, BP and the federal government claimed that the well was only spilling 42,000 gallons per day. This number was later revised to 210,000 gallons, despite objections raised by BP (ref. 3). In part due to questions raised by independent scientists, a group of government appointed scientist studied the flow rate, and eventually determined that 2.6 million gallons of oil were spewing from the well per day at the height of the disaster (ref. 4).
Playing Hardball in the Courts and Court of Public Opinion
Now, BP is mounting an aggressive legal and public relations campaign to shield itself from liability and downplay the amount of oil spilled in the Gulf, as well as the ongoing impacts from the disaster. In court filings, BP has urged U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier, who is overseeing the case, to use an estimate of 103 million gallons of oil, contrary to the government’s estimate of 176 million gallons spilled (ref. 5). BP is also attempting to halt payments to individuals and businesses impacted by the disaster, claiming instances of fraud with little evidence to back-up such claims (ref. 6).
BP’s concerted and expensive public relations effort to minimize the continued impacts of the disaster also continues, leading Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal to assert recently that “three and a half years later, BP is spending more money -- I want you to hear this -- they are spending more money on television commercials than they have on actually restoring the natural resources they impacted (ref. 7).”
Ongoing Impacts from the Disaster
The oil is still here in the Gulf. In recent months, researchers reported finding oil off Tampa Bay and Sarasota Bay in Florida (ref. 8). In Louisiana, over 200 miles of shoreline have “some degree of oiling” including 14 miles that are moderately or heavily oiled. From March through August of this year, over three million pounds of oiled material have been collected in Louisiana, more than double the amount over the same time period last year (ref. 9). Tar balls continue to wash ashore on Gulf beaches (ref. 10).
New impacts to the Gulf’s ecosystem and creatures also continue to emerge. In this year alone, the National Marine Fisheries Service has recorded 212 dolphin and other marine mammal strandings in the northern Gulf (ref. 11). A new study also shows significant negative impacts on tiny organisms that live on the seafloor in a 57 square mile area around the Deepwater Horizon well site (ref 12). These recent examples are only add to the numerous other impacts that have been documented since the disaster began, including genetic disruptions for Gulf killifish (ref. 13) harm to deepwater corals (ref. 14), and the die-off of tiny foraminifera that are an important part of the Gulf’s food chain (ref. 15).
To discuss the resumption of the BP trial and the ongoing impacts to the Gulf, please contact Raleigh Hoke, GRN’s Communication Director, at Raleigh@healthygulf.org or 504-525-1528, ext. 204 or 573-795-1916.
Photos of ongoing impacts, including an April 2013 trip to Elmer’s Island and Grand Isle, Louisiana, are available for media use, with attribution, on GRN’s Flickr page.
Gulf Restoration Network is a 19 year old non-profit dedicated to empowering people to protect and restore the health of the Gulf of Mexico.
1. Kunzelman, Michael. “BP Spill Trial Testimony Ends for First Phase of Case,” Associated Press, 17 April 2013.http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/18/bp-spill-trial-testimony_n_3103007.html
2. “Clean Water Act & RESTORE,” Environmental Law Institute. http://eli-ocean.org/gulf/clean-water-act-restore/
3. Gillis, Justin. “Size of Oil Spill Underestimated, Scientists Say,” New York Times, 13 May 2013.http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/14/us/14oil.html?_r=0
4. Hoch, Maureen. “New Estimate Puts Gulf Oil Leak at 205 Million Gallons,” PBS NewsHour, 2 August 2010.http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/2010/08/new-estimate-puts-oil-leak-at-49-million-barrels.html
5. “BP, feds offer dueling Gulf oil spill estimates as second phase of trial approaches,” Associated Press, 5 September 2013.http://www.nola.com/news/gulf-oil-spill/index.ssf/2013/09/bp_feds_offer_dueling_gulf_oil.html
6. Schleifstein, Mark. “BP again asks federal judge to suspend Deepwater Horizon oil spill private claims payments,” Times-Picayune, 23 September 2013. http://www.nola.com/news/gulf-oil-spill/index.ssf/2013/09/bp_again_asks_federal_judge_to.html
7. Hammer, David. “Jindal blasts BP, says it spent more on ads than coastal restoration,” WWLTV, 28 August 2013.http://www.wwltv.com/news/local/Jindal-blasts-BP-say-it-spent-more-on-ads-than-coastal-restoration-221578271.html
8. Pittman, Craig.“ Oil from BP spill pushed onto shelf off Tampa Bay by underwater currents, study finds,” Tampa Bay Times, 20 August 2013.http://www.tampabay.com/news/environment/water/oil-from-bp-spill-was-pushed-onto-shelf-off-tampa-bay-by-underwater/2137406
9. Winters, Drue. Response Update on Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill to Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority. 18 September 2013. http://www.lacpra.org/assets/Drue,%20CPRA%20Presentation%20September%202013%20FINAL%20FINAL.pdf
10. “Environmental advocates, visitors question removal of BP oil cleaning crews in Gulf,” Associated Press, 17 June 2013.
11. 2010-2013 Cetacean Unusual Mortality Event in Northern Gulf of Mexico. NMFS.http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/health/mmume/cetacean_gulfofmexico2010.ht
12. Schleifstein, Mark.“Decades needed for recovery of tiny life on Gulf seabed after BP oil spill, new study says,” Times-Picayune, 24 September 2013. http://www.nola.com/news/gulf-oil-spill/index.ssf/2013/09/decades_needed_for_recovery_of.html
13. Mohan, Jeffrey. “Study: Gulf oil spill is sickening fish vital to seafood industry,” LA Times, 2 May 2013.http://articles.latimes.com/2013/may/02/science/la-sci-sn-gulf-oil-spill-fish-20130502
14. “BP oil spill seriously harmed deep-sea corals, scientists warn,” The Guardian, 26 March 2012.http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2012/mar/26/bp-oil-spill-deepwater-horizon
15. Pittman, Craig.“Three years after BP oil spill, USF research finds massive die-off,” Tampa Bay Times, 4 April 2013.http://www.tampabay.com/news/environment/water/gulf-oil-spill-killed-millions-of-microscopic-creatures-at-base-of-food/2113157