BP made headlines in late April by pledging $1 billion for restoration projects along the Gulf Coast.
The Natural Resource Trustees for the Deepwater Horizon oil spill announced the agreement, which was facilitated by the U.S. Justice Department. The Trustees include the states of Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas. They also include the Department of Interior and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the federal agencies responsible for cleanup and restoration.
It has been 14 months since the explosion aboard Deepwater Horizon and massive oil spill from the Macondo well. The well was capped in July and permanently sealed in September. Since then Gulf Coast communities have been working to recover and restore the region, both economically and environmentally.
Assessing the oil spill’s impact on the Gulf Coast’s natural resources is the objective of a Natural Resources Damage Assessment (NRDA) being conducted by the Trustees under auspices of the Oil Spill Pollution Act of 1990. Their goal, according to NOAA, is to:
- “Return injured natural resources and services to the condition they would have been in if the incident had not occurred.”
- “Recover compensation for interim losses of such natural resources and services through the restoration, rehabilitation, replacement or acquisition of equivalent natural resources or services.”
Typically, the assessment is completed before any transfer of funds. But the process can be a long one. And BP decided to make these funds available now to accelerate recovery along the Gulf coast.
“BP believes early restoration will result in identified improvements to wildlife habitat and related recreational uses in the Gulf, and our voluntary commitment to that process is the best way to get restoration projects moving as soon as possible,” said Lamar McKay, chairman and president of BP America Inc., in a written statement.
“Our voluntary agreement to accelerate restoration projects builds upon the cooperative approach BP has taken toward working with Gulf communities and regulators since the accident, and in assessing the potential injury to natural resources,” McKay continued. “We hope to work in partnership with the Trustee Council to address injured resources in the Gulf as soon as possible.
“We believe the early restoration projects to be funded through this agreement represent the best way forward in restoring the Gulf.”
The Trustees agreed.
“This milestone agreement will allow us to jump-start restoration projects that will bring Gulf Coast marshes, wetlands and wildlife habitat back to health after the damage they suffered as a result of the Deepwater Horizon spill,” said Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. “This agreement accelerates our work on Gulf Coast restoration and in no way limits the ability of all the Natural Resource Trustees from seeking full damages from those who are responsible as the NRDA process moves forward.”
NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco added, “One year after the largest oil spill in our history we take a major step forward in the recovery of the Gulf of Mexico, for the environment and for the people who depend on it for their livelihood and enjoyment. Today’s agreement is a down payment on our promise to restore and protect the Gulf.”
The Trustees will each select and implement $100 million worth of projects. The remaining $300 million will be allocated by DOI and NOAA based on project proposals submitted by the Trustee states.
Just a few days after this agreement, the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative announced the details of its program in a request for proposals.
Established by BP in May 2010 with a $500 million commitment over 10 years, the focus is the study of the environmental and public health impact of the oil spill on the Gulf of Mexico.
Its first funded projects were to study the interactions crude oil in the water column had with the chemical dispersants used to combat the spill.
Now, however, the initiative is looking to fund broader research, looking at the effects and impact of petroleum in marine environments.
Rita Colwell, a professor at the University of Maryland and former director of the National Science Foundation, chairs the 23-person research board, which will make the scientific and funding decisions. The board has identified five themes for the research effort.
Due to the multi-disciplinary nature of these research problems, the board has elected to fund research consortia rather than individual researchers. It will use NSF standards in its peer-reviewed proposal evaluation, and the research results will be made publicly available in peer-reviewed scientific journals.
“Today is a significant milestone,” Colwell said, “in our efforts to understand the effects of the Deepwater Horizon incident on the Gulf of Mexico.”