8 Important Updates, 8 Years After the Gulf Oil Disaster

04.20.2018 | In Hurricanes & Oil Spills
By Emily Guidry Schatzel, Senior Communications Manager, Mississippi River Delta Restoration, National Wildlife Federation

On this day in 2010, the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded, killing 11 men and spewing 130 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. After leaking for 87 days, oil ultimately seeped onto shorelines and marshes, mostly in Louisiana.

Eight years later, with the legal settlement completed and settlement funds from BP and other companies flowing to the affected states, it’s worth reflecting on restoration progress, regulatory rollbacks that could impact wildlife in these areas, and how penalty money is being used for coastal restoration.

Here are 8 things you should know about on this 8th anniversary of the Gulf oil disaster:

 

1) Timeline for Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion accelerated by two years

50 year land change in the Barataria Basin without restoration projects under the medium environmental scenario.

Perhaps no area was harder hit by the oil spill than the Barataria Basin. In a place suffering some of the worst land loss rates on the planet, crude oil coating the marshes added insult to injury. Earlier this month, an update to the federal permitting dashboard resulted in the timeline for the keystone Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion being shortened by 22 months. This is a huge victory for the area, and will help deliver sediment into disappearing wetlands, mimicking the natural process of the Mississippi River that built this area in the first place. Without projects like this, the Barataria Basin could lose an additional 550 square miles of land over the next 50 years.  

 

2) Restoration plan for Louisiana’s Barataria Basin finalized

In other good news for the Barataria Basin, the state’s Natural Resource Damage Assessment Trustee Implementation Group completed a plan prioritizing how to best repair damages from the oil spill and restore the region’s ecosystems. This final restoration plan addresses the area’s land loss and oil spill damage, including using large-scale projects like the Mid-Barataria Sediment Diversion, along with marsh creation and ridge restoration projects to restore natural deltaic processes and ecosystem health in the basin.

3) Settlement dollars continue to fund restoration

As penalty payments from BP and Transocean have begun flowing to the affected states, many restoration projects are the beneficiaries of much-needed money to keep moving forward. In Louisiana, projects like Biloxi Marsh Oyster Reef Restoration, Shell Island West Barrier Island Restoration and Large-Scale Barataria Marsh Creation have all made significant progress thanks to oil spill fines. The Large-Scale Barataria Marsh Creation project alone has restored and nourished more than 1,500 acres of marsh on the Barataria Landbridge.

4) Louisiana completes biggest restoration project yet

In a huge victory for the state’s coast, Louisiana’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority completed its largest barrier island restoration project to date at Caminada Headland. This 13-mile barrier island system protects nearby Port Fourchon and provides important habitat for nesting shorebirds and migratory birds. The project was largely funded through criminal fines paid by BP and Transocean.

5) National Fish and Wildlife Foundation conservation projects advance

ICYMI, the beautiful video recap below of NFWF’s Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund highlighting some of the significant conservation outcomes achieved under the program, which was created in accordance with the settlement agreement between Department of Justice, BP and Transocean. Since the oil spill, NFWF has supported 122 projects across the Gulf that will conserve a combined 100,000 acres of critical coastal habitat; protect 40 miles of shoreline; bolster populations of Gulf Coast birds, sea turtles, and marine mammals; and enhance commercial and recreational fisheries.

6) Critical coastal bird habitat still in need of restoration

This infographic from Audubon Louisiana showcases the mosaic of coastal habitat types that 100 million migrating, breeding and nesting birds use annually in Louisiana. Much of this habitat was impacted by encroaching BP oil, worsening the state’s ongoing land loss crisis and jeopardizing many species.

Birds of Our Coast infographic. Credit: Audubon Louisiana.

7) Migratory Bird Treaty Act threatened

Under this act, BP paid $100 million for causing one million bird deaths in the oil disaster. The premise of the act is “you break it, you buy it,” says Audubon’s Brian Moore, vice president of Gulf policy. The MBTA helped hold BP criminally liable for the damage it caused Gulf birds, and sadly it’s currently under attack. The National Audubon Society and the National Wildlife Federation have both spoken out against recent efforts in Congress to weaken this law. To date, as a result of the MBTA, over $64 million of BP settlement funds have been paid out to help birds and the places they need. These funds have protected or restored more than 350,000 acres benefitting birds and people.

8) There is still much more to be done

Successful progress on restoration should not be misinterpreted as “all is well” in the Gulf. There is still much to be done to not only mitigate ongoing impacts to wildlife and habitat, but also to restore damaged coastal areas. The reality is that the long-term impacts from the oil spill will be felt for decades to come. We must continue to work together — all levels of government, agencies, non-profit organizations and community members — to ensure a disaster like this never happens again, and that the Gulf Coast recovers to be more economically and ecologically resilient than ever.