Huffington Post: Natural Gas Rig Blowout Highlights Dangers Of Drilling In The Gulf

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/07/26/natural-gas-rig-blowout_n_3660717.html?utm_hp_ref=fb&src=sp&comm_ref=false

I’m concerned about the 27,000 old wells that have not been decommissioned and are prone to leak. They should be removed and the wellheads sealed. DV

Posted: 07/26/2013 4:36 pm EDT

From Mother Nature Network’s Russell McLendon:

Flames erupted from an offshore drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico Tuesday night, torching a natural gas plume that had been leaking since a blowout earlier in the day. All 44 rig workers were evacuated before the fire began, according to the U.S. Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, but the rig continued spewing gas until Thursday morning, when its scorched frame finally collapsed enough to cut off the leak.

In addition to the cloud of natural gas rising from the rig, the BSEE had observed a light sheen on the water’s surface measuring half a mile by 50 feet. The well’s owner, Walter Oil & Gas, was reportedly making preparations to drill a relief well before the rig “bridged over,” clogging the well with sand and sediment. The Associated Press reported Thursday afternoon that the fire is out, the rig appears stable and no sheen is visible.

Located 55 miles off the Louisiana coast, the well’s unmanned platform wasn’t producing gas when the blowout occurred. The 44 workers were on an adjacent, portable rig that was drilling a “sidetrack well” into the original well bore. It’s unclear what ignited the gas, the BSEE says, and a diagnosis will likely be delayed by response and cleanup efforts.

“BSEE’s efforts today are focused on bringing this loss of well control event to a safe resolution,” says Lars Herbst, BSEE Gulf of Mexico regional director, in a statement issued Tuesday. “Offshore oil and gas operators need to re-affirm their aggressive approach to the safety of well operations in light of this event and other recent well control events.”

The most salient such event in recent memory is the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster, which killed 11 people and released 200 million gallons of crude oil into the Gulf. Officials say there’s little chance this week’s blowout will come anywhere close to matching that level of devastation, but it does cast a new spotlight on a long-running risk looming off the U.S. Gulf Coast. Earlier this month, for example, another inactive gas well ruptured off the Louisiana coast, leaking a small amount of gas and liquid before it was plugged.

The Gulf of Mexico is dotted with nearly 4,000 active oil and gas platforms (pictured above), plus a sprawling array of drilling rigs, supply ships and pipelines. This seafaring infrastructure is key to a bustling energy sector across the Gulf Coast, especially in Louisiana and Texas, but it also poses a grave danger to nearby people and wildlife.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. oil and gas extraction industry had a death rate of 27.1 per 100,000 workers between 2003 and 2010. That’s seven times higher than the 3.8 deaths per 100,000 workers across all U.S. industries. “The 11 lives lost in the 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion provide a reminder of the hazards involved in offshore drilling,” the CDC report stated.

Beyond the threat from active wells and drilling, the Gulf is also haunted by more than 27,000 abandoned oil and gas wells, most of which undergo no monitoring for leaks. Some of the region’s oldest wells were abandoned in the 1940s, and many others are only considered “temporarily abandoned,” thus facing less strict sealing requirements.

These wells could be seeping oil, methane or other toxic substances for years, potentially sickening already-threatened wildlife like sea turtles or cetaceans. And as researchers have learned since 2010, large amounts of oil and gas can wreak havoc with microbial life and coral colonies, both of which are key to the Gulf’s food web – including its lucrative seafood industry. Although the Gulf is home to microbes that evolved to feed on natural oil and gas seeps, too much unnatural leaking and spilling can smother them.

“It’s important to keep in mind that if you keep pumping hydrocarbons into the system, you’ll eventually overwhelm it,” University of Georgia marine scientist Samantha Joye told MNN earlier this year, referring to the 2010 spill on its three-year anniversary.

Closer to shore, oil and gas development has already transformed many Gulf Coast wetlands, as manmade canals and other extraction-related projects have disrupted the flow of water and sediments that gradually build coastal bayous. The region has lost about 1,900 square miles of land in the past 80 years, and Louisiana alone is projected to lose another 1,750 square miles by 2060. Not only do these marshes house important wildlife, but they also serve as a protective buffer against hurricanes.

Recognizing this risk, Louisiana officials filed a lawsuit Wednesday against dozens of energy companies, seeking damages for decades of harm to coastal wetlands. Filed coincidentally as a leaking gas rig burned offshore, the suit cites “a mercilessly efficient, continuously expanding system of ecological destruction,” according to the New York Times, and hints at evolving attitudes in a region that has prospered from drilling but also suffered from lost tourism and seafood income after the Deepwater Horizon spill.

“Coastal economies, which depend on healthy oceans, simply cannot afford more offshore drilling disasters,” says Jacqueline Savitz, deputy vice president for the environmental group Oceana, in a statement released Wednesday about the latest gas blowout. “This is yet another reminder that offshore drilling remains dirty and dangerous.”

Editor’s Note: This post has been updated since it was first published on July 24, 2013.

Special thanks to Richard Charter

Huffington Post: Gulf Of Mexico Oil Sheens Likely Came From Deepwater Horizon Wreckage, Study Shows

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/07/16/gulf-of-mexico-oil-sheens_n_3605468.html

By MICHAEL KUNZELMAN 07/16/13 11:47 AM ET EDT

NEW ORLEANS – A team of researchers has concluded that pockets of oil trapped in the wreckage of the sunken Deepwater Horizon are the likely source of oil sheens that have been spotted in the Gulf of Mexico near the site of the deadly 2010 explosion on the BP-leased drilling rig.

A newly published study by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and the University of California at Santa Barbara rules out BP’s sealed-off Macondo well and natural oil seeps as possible sources of the sheens.

The researchers said their conclusions are based on an analysis of 14 sheen samples collected from the surface of the water during two trips to the Gulf.

Last year, BP PLC said it capped an abandoned piece of equipment that was believed to be the source of a sheen.

Special thanks to Richard Charter

Live Science: Oil Sheens Near Deepwater Horizon Spill from Sunken Rig

http://www.livescience.com/38200-deepwater-horizon-oil-sheen-source.html

Douglas Main, Staff Writer | July 16, 2013 10:29am ET

deepwater-horizon-oil-sheen
Oil sheens overlying the wreckage of the Deepwater Horizon, first spotted in September 2012. The oil is coming from the wreckage of the rig, new research shows.
Credit: David Valentine, UCSB

Recurrent sheens of oil in the Gulf of Mexico near the site of 2010’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill have baffled researchers and led to fears that oil may once again be spewing from the seafloor well.
But a study published this week in the journal Environmental Science and Technology shows that there is no new leak: The oil is coming from isolated tanks and pockets within the wreckage of the sunken rig, according to a statement from the National Science Foundation (NSF), which funded the research.

The mysterious sheens of oil were first reported in September 2012. To find out their provenance, researchers took samples of the sheens and compared them against others taken from various sources, including floating pieces of wreckage recovered shortly after the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded and sunk on April 20, 2010.

“This appears to be a slow leak from the wreckage of the rig, not another catastrophic discharge from a deep oil reservoir,” David Valentine, a geochemist at the University of California at Santa Barbara, said in the statement. “Continued oil discharge to the Gulf of Mexico from the wreckage of the Deepwater Horizon rig is not a good thing, but there is some comfort that the amount of leakage is limited to the pockets of oil trapped within the wreckage of the rig.”

Using a technique developed by Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution researcher Chris Reddy, the scientists found that the oil from the sheens reported last fall matched those taken from the floating wreckage. The samples both contain uniform amounts of olefins, a chemical used in drilling fluids, according to the statement. Olefins are not found in crude oil, meaning the sheens aren’t likely to originate from the Macondo well or any other natural oil seep in the Gulf, the NSF reported.

When the rig sunk, it held tanks containing hundreds of barrels filled with a mixture of drilling mud and oil. Researchers speculate that these tanks are leaking after being gradually corroded by seawater, according to the statement.

The Deepwater Horizon oil spill was the biggest in American history, releasing about 205 million gallons (776 million liters) of oil. The area of the Gulf near the spill has been negatively affected ever since; tar balls containing dangerous bacteria have washed up on beaches in the area and there has been an unusually high death rate for dolphins.

Email Douglas Main or follow him on Twitter or Google+. Follow us @livescience, Facebook or Google+. Article originally on LiveScience.com.
– See more at: http://www.livescience.com/38200-deepwater-horizon-oil-sheen-source.html#sthash.M2hByyJZ.dpuf

Special thanks to Richard Charter

Nola.com: Louisiana Seafood: In wake of BP spill and river diversions, oysters show strain

http://www.nola.com/environment/index.ssf/2013/07/louisiana_seafood_bp_oil_spill.html#incart_river_default

By Benjamin Alexander-Bloch, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune
Email the author | Follow on Twitter
on July 13, 2013 at 5:00 PM, updated July 14, 2013 at 1:03 AM

oysters in the  gulf

It’s difficult to talk about Louisiana seafood these days without the BP oil spill working its way into the conversation. It wasn’t that long ago, after all, that television screens were filled with high-def images of fouled coastal marsh and angry fishermen forlornly staring at their idled fleet.

But some scientists and fishers say it remains impossible to gauge the 2010 spill’s precise environmental and biological toll. Asked about a 15-percent drop in the statewide oyster harvest in the two years following the spill, experts say the spill definitely continues to be a potential factor, but is only one of several.

Perhaps as damaging as the oil and the temporary closures of thousands of acres of Gulf waters in the wake of the disaster three years ago, they say, was the millions of gallons of fresh Mississippi River water that flowed into the Lake Pontchartrain Basin east of the river in 2010 and 2011. Oysters, essentially immobile and unable to withstand the torrents of fresh water, bore the brunt.

A closer look at the preliminary data from the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries reveal wide variation from area to area. But in terms of oyster production, the Lake Pontchartrain Basin east of the Mississippi River saw the worst of it.

Before the oil spill, Louisiana regularly led the nation in oyster production, with the Lake Pontchartrain Basin traditionally the state’s most productive harvest grounds.

From 2002-2009, the Pontchartrain Basin averaged 7.2 million pounds of oyster meat annually. But beginning in 2010, that production took a nose dive – falling to 2.6 million pounds that year, then to 2.4 million pounds in 2011 and, finally, to 1.8 million pounds in 2012.

Overall, just in 2011 and 2012, oysters in Pontchartrain Basin saw a 71-percent drop compared to the 2002-09 average.

While oyster production showed an increase in the Terrebonne Basin, east of the Mississippi River, the decline in the Lake Pontchartrain Basin was so pronounced that it pulled the overall statewide numbers down in all three years.

“It’s been really down. ŠNormally we always put 400 sacks on the trucks but the last three years or so, we have only been able to put on 150, 130, 140 sacks,” said Shawn Assavedo, an oyster harvester in Pontchartrain Basin out of eastern St. Bernard Parish. “That’s exactly what it’s been since they opened that siphon.

“That freshwater, it goes into Lake Borgne and it has killed a lot of oysters there, really a massive amount of oysters.”

Now the measly haul of oysters in Pontchartrain Basin often is dwarfed by the expanse of the 18-wheeler trucks’ beds.

Brad Robin Sr. talks about how one of the most production areas in the country for harvesting oysters is still struggling to recover.

Brad Robin Sr., a fellow St. Bernard oysterman who typically harvested out of Lake Borgne, said that his old stopping grounds have had “zero percent come back.”
“There is no life left there,” Robin said. “The east side of the river is way down and still trying to recover, trying to get some sort of normalcy out of it all.”

But the fears is that the decline east of the river could continue for an extended period: The Pontchartrain public harvesting grounds in the Breton and Chandeleur sounds provided the majority of the oyster seed that harvesters transplanted to grow oysters in private leases across the state.

“Our public reefs on the east side of the river, that was our mother seed ground,” said John Tesvich, chairman of the Louisiana Oyster Task Force. “That is basically wiped out right now.”

The freshening of the water
While the oil spill is an easy fall guy – and many scientists continue to study its impact, often in secrecy for future oil-spill litigation – scientists and some fishers also point to the Mississippi River diversions in 2010 and 2011 as major culprits for the plummeting oyster haul.

“Freshwater is the biggest killer of oysters in the world,” said Greg Voisin, an eighth-generation oysterman who helps run his family business, Motivatit Seafoods, in Terrebonne Parish.

Ken Brown, a Louisiana State University biologist, said he and his colleagues haven’t seen any major effects from the oil on adult oyster mortality rates, but when fresh water dilutes salinity levels “below 10 parts per thousand, and especially if you get below 5 parts per thousand, then oysters have problems.”

Hoping to keep the oil that was spewing from BP’s Macondo well away from Louisiana’s fragile inshore marshes and estuaries, the state in 2010 ran the Davis Pond and Caernarvon river diversions at full speed for several months to push the oily Gulf waters away. The diversions did appear to help drive out some of the oil but they also dropped salinity levels in much of that Pontchartrain Basin to levels unsustainable to oysters.

Then in 2011, when Mississippi River levels in New Orleans approached the 17-foot flood stage because of heavy rainfall in the Midwest, the Bonnet Carré Spillway west of the city was opened from early May through mid-June, further freshening the basin.
That fresh water that poured from Bonnet Carré into Lake Pontchartrain eventually pushed into the surrounding waters of Lake Borgne and the Mississippi Sound.

The state had anticipated the impact from the Bonnet Carré opening. The Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission chose to open oyster reefs within portions of the Pontchartrain Basin area before opening the spillway, allowing oyster fishers to take oysters from those grounds and move them to private leases in higher salinity areas.

Oysters thrive when the salinity is 15 parts per thousand, about half the salinity of seawater. They struggle when it falls below 10 parts per thousand and die off when it dips below 5 parts per thousand.

Parts of Pontchartrain Basin fell to less than 3 parts per thousand during periods of 2010 and 2011, according to state and federal data.

Oyster growth problems
Because fresh water diversions carry so much sediment – they often are envisioned as land builders – the diversions in 2010 and 2011 also buried or at least partially covered much of the cultch in Pontchartrain Basin, according to a Wildlife and Fisheries assessment.

Oysterman Brad Robin Jr. explains how small pieces of chopped concrete made from the slabs of flooded Hurricane Katrina homes helps oysters grow.

Cultch is the broken stones and oyster shells that form the reefs upon which oyster larvae attach and grow into adult oysters. Lose the cultch, and the oysters have nothing to latch onto.

Also, in some areas east of the river, much of the oyster shell was covered with an unidentified algae that seems to have prevented oyster seed from taking hold on the reefs.

Some oyster fishers pointed to that algae as an indicator that the oil spill had ruined their crop, but scientists say it also might have been created by the excess nutrients in the river water that poured into the basin.

While nutrients carried by freshwater play an important role in the high productivity of the Gulf systems, they also bring algae blooms, which consume oxygen and create “dead zones” with fish- and oyster-killing low oxygen levels.

Tesvich said he and others also worry about the quality of that river water and whether problems with oyster reproduction on the existing cultch could be tied to the oil.

“Was there some sort of industrial waste or agricultural runoff in that river water?” he asked. “Or is it something from BP in addition to the river water that is causing something? There are a lot of things we just don’t know about these oysters coming back.”

But it wasn’t all bleak where the oyster harvest is concerned.

State Wildlife and Fisheries Department data show that in 2011 the Barataria Basin, to the west of the river, harvested 23 percent more oysters than its pre-spill average and then, in 2012, harvested 44 percent more.

And because the price of oysters continued to rise, the Wildlife and Fisheries numbers show that Barataria oyster fishers earned about $18 million in 2012 – about 116-percent more than they had earned on average between 2002 and 2009.

In 2012, the average price statewide was about $3.70 per pound at the dock, or about 30 percent above the pre-spill average of about $2.80 per pound.

Nonetheless, Al Sunseri, who owns P & J Oyster Co. with his brother Sal, thinks the Wildlife and Fisheries numbers are wrong when it comes to the amount of oysters that have been harvested in Barataria the past few years.

“I’m not a scientist, but I just have some common sense,” Sunseri said. “There is something going on, because we are not seeing the oysters come back like they always did.”

Still, Mitch Jurisich, who harvests a large chunk of the oysters in Barataria, recently said that the last few years have been “the best crop in our family’s history.”

“Jurisich and others in the area did extremely well,” Tesvich acknowledged, but he added that other parts of the Barataria “have been having trouble because of so much fresh water.”

And then there is Terrebonne Basin, which was hopping the past few years, according to the state landings data and discussions with oystermen.

A basin that on average harvested 2.3 million pounds of oysters between 2002 and 2009, Terrebonne produced 4.4 million pounds in 2011 and 4.3 million pounds in 2012. That’s about an 85-percent increase.

Most of that increase in Terrebonne Basin actually could be tied to decreases elsewhere, as oystermen relied on that area to cover declines. For instance, the number of trips oyster fishers took in the basin grew from an average of 7,814 between 2002-2009 to 16,928 trips in 2012 – a 116-percent increase.

“Our oysters being available, it allows the areas east of the river to rest and go through whatever cycle they are going through,” Voisin said. “You have to utilize the resource here when it’s not there, and there when it’s not here, and that’s just the way that we’ve be doing things throughout history.”

Looking forward
Despite the 15-percent drop in statewide oyster production the past couple years, the state’s oyster fishing industry as a whole doesn’t appear to have fared too bad financially.

Because the price per pound has risen since the spill, the overall amount earned by oyster harvesters across the state in 2011 and 2012 actually rose by about 10 percent compared to the pre-spill average, according to the Wildlife and Fisheries’ at-the-dock price and landings data.

Also, the state’s 2012 basin-by-basin data and the statewide 2012 data from the federal Fisheries Service remain very preliminary. Often, the federal data rise by several million pounds when finalized.

The Fisheries Services is expected to release more official 2012 statewide catch numbers this fall.

The conventional wisdom is that two or three years after a major fresh water event, oysters will grow back strong. Often in history, it creates a boom crop. With less salinity, for example, there often are fewer predators that eat the oysters.

So some oyster fishers are waiting, fingers crossed, hoping that in the next few years there will be a bumper season.

Count Assavedo among them. Assavedo is among those oystermen plowing ahead in the Lake Pontchartrain Basin, spending money to put down new cultch in the hope that better days are ahead.

It’s a risk he feels he has no choice but to take.

“If it is not fresh cultch material, you are not getting anything. But my new stuff out there, that I laid down, it seems to be doing good,” Assavedo said. “The oysters stuck to it and are growing. I haven’t lost any of them yet. ŠI just hope that continues.”

________________

Wayne Gordon, an employee with P&J Oyster Co., loads up a delivery truck on Oct. 28, 2010, with the first load of oyster that Pete Vujnovich harvested near Port Sulphur since the closure of area 13 back on May 20, 2010.
NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune archive

Special thanks to Richard Charter

E&E: Company caps leaking offshore well

Nathanial Gronewold, E&E reporter
Published: Friday, July 12, 2013

HOUSTON — A mixture of gas, condensate and water has stopped leaking into the Gulf of Mexico at a broken offshore well, according to government regulators and the company that owns it.

Work is now shifting to permanently cap the well, which rests in about 140 feet of water about 70 miles south of Port Fourchon, La. Rough waters are making that work more difficult, but officials at the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement say they will continue to monitor the crew’s work to plug the well with cement, which the agency foresees happening over the weekend.

Energy Resource Technology GOM Inc., the operator of the well and now a subsidiary of Talos Energy LLC, halted the leak last night by pumping drilling mud into the well after BSEE approved the plan.

ERT said the volume of hydrocarbons released into the environment is low enough that it would naturally dissipate and evaporate, much as naturally occurring oil sheens in the Gulf of Mexico do. No cleanup operations are planned at this time.

“The discharge volumes were very low, and the sheen that had formed earlier in the week appears to have evaporated almost completely,” a Talos spokesman said in an email.

“Permanent plugging and cementing is what will come next,” the spokesman added, confirming that choppy seas were slowing the pace of the intervention.

ERT workers were performing maintenance on the well earlier this week when they noticed a loss of control and escaping natural gas. The platform was promptly evacuated, and no injuries were sustained.

The platform, located in the offshore area known as Ship Shoal, is connected to another nearby platform by a bridge, and intervention work and situation monitoring have been occurring largely from that installation. The Coast Guard also responded to the incident.

The installation was built in the 1970s and has been a marginal producer since at least the late 1990s. According to BSEE, the
response team is now considering how to permanently close it.

“BSEE engineers are reviewing plans and procedures from ERT for moving forward to isolate the well’s hydrocarbon zone,” the agency said in a release. “A BSEE supervisory inspector is on board the platform monitoring the ongoing site assessment and well analysis.”

Special thanks to Richard Charter

E&E: Gas still seeping from busted Gulf well

Nathanial Gronewold, E&E reporter
Published: Friday, July 12, 2013

HOUSTON — A crew continued to try to regain control of a busted offshore natural gas well in the Gulf of Mexico last night after the federal government approved an intervention plan.

Late yesterday afternoon, officials at Energy Resources Technology LLC (ERT) began pumping drilling mud into the stricken shallow-water well in an attempt to stop the out-of-control flow of natural gas. The company lost control of the well, one of three on the offshore platform, during work aimed at temporarily plugging it.

Aside from the gas leak, the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement and the U.S. Coast Guard reported a 4-mile-wide sheen on the surface of the waters surrounding the well when the accident occurred Tuesday. BSEE spokeswoman Eileen Angelico said the sheen was caused by a small volume of associated condensates released with the gas when the crew lost control of the well.

The agencies said that about 3.6 barrels of light condensate was leaking from the site every 24 hours. “The well is flowing gas, so it’s gas, water and condensate,” Angelico said.

As of late last night, there was no word on whether the ERT crew had been able to stop the gas leak with the drilling mud operation. The government says the company’s plan was formally approved after a review, and BSEE and the Coast Guard are monitoring the entire operation from a neighboring platform.

“Procedures for the source control operations were prepared by ERT and reviewed and approved by BSEE,” the agency said in its most recent notice on the situation. “Once confirmation of the successful well kill operation is received, BSEE will review ERT’s plan for plugging the well.”

The platform where the accident occurred rests atop the Ship Shoal Block, and offshore concession about 70 miles south of Port Fourchon, La. The small, mostly gas production operation sits in about 146 feet of water.

Special thanks to Richard Charter

Grist: Look what the gas and oil industry did to the Gulf of Mexico – again

http://grist.org/news/look-what-the-gas-and-oil-industry-did-to-the-gulf-of-mexico-again/

Why wasn’t the rig properly decommissioned and the well plugged when they ended operations as their lease requires? DV

By John Upton

gulf-of-mexico-sheen

Sheens of oil atop the Gulf of Mexico have become a depressingly familiar sight – the result of reckless drilling by the oil and gas industry. Here is a photograph shot Wednesday of the latest such debacle. An old natural gas well off Louisiana’s coastline was being sealed shut Monday when it began leaking, 144 feet beneath the water’s surface. This photo is one of a series taken during a flight over the site by On Wings of Care, an environmental nonprofit.

On Wings of Care
From On Wings of Care’s blog post:
A badly leaking natural gas well in the Ship Shoal Lease Block #225 of the Gulf of Mexico has spread an ugly, toxic mass of oily rainbow sheen over several square miles not far from the top of Ewing Bank – an area once rich with marine life, especially large plankton feeders and many other species of marine life. We have flown that area in eight different five-to-six-hour wildlife survey flights just within the past three weeks, helping scientists find and study whale sharks.

Today, despite mirror-calm seas, excellent water and air visibility, and clear blue water, we saw barely a trace of marine life in this area.

Fuel Fix reports that the well continues to leak a “briny mix” of natural gas, light condensate, and seawater: Late Wednesday, workers were preparing to begin pumping drilling mud into the well, the first stage in an operation to kill it permanently, 15 years after it last produced gas commercially and four decades after it was drilled.

For much of the day, they were waiting for proof that gas at the platform the well serves had dropped to safe levels so that workers could board the facility. In the meantime, federal regulators and well control specialists waited at a neighboring platform.

The Coast Guard and the federal Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement said they plan to conduct an investigation.

John Upton is a science fan and green news boffin who tweets, posts articles to Facebook, and blogs about ecology. He welcomes reader questions, tips, and incoherent rants: johnupton@gmail.com.

Special thanks to Richard Charter

Penn State University: Biologist investigates lasting ecological impacts of Deepwater Horizon oil spill. At the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico, in the vicinity of the Macondo well, Charles Fisher discovered previously unseen impacts on coral communities.

http://news.psu.edu/story/281127/2013/07/10/research/biologist-investigates-lasting-ecological-impacts-deepwater-horizon

By Sara LaJeunesse
July 10, 2013

Billions of dollars.

That’s what’s at stake for BP as a result of the damage caused to ecosystems in the Gulf of Mexico from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

News of that spill — which began on April 20, 2010, with an explosion onboard the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig that killed 11 people and injured 17 — dominated the media for weeks. Millions watched with a feeling of helplessness as the rig sank and over the next 86 days over 200 million gallons of oil spewed out of the Macondo well and into the ocean.

Five months after the spill was capped, the federal government estimated the marine animal death toll at 6,104 birds, 609 sea turtles, and 100 mammals, including dolphins. But what of the deep-water corals that provide habitat and reproductive grounds for numerous species of fish, shrimp, and crabs?
According to Charles Fisher, professor of biology at Penn State, these corals and the organisms they support are important components of a healthy deep sea and open-ocean ecosystem. That’s why both BP and the government are closely collaborating with him on his investigation of the disaster’s impact.

“It’s a new experience for me to conduct research that could have such a dramatic financial impact and also to have so many people involved in everything we do,” says Fisher. “You have to be very careful to document all the details and be very sure that you’re right with your interpretations. We’re always careful, but every little comment we make could be misinterpreted, so we’re being extra conservative with this data set.”

Calling on a World Expert
It was the middle of May, about a month after the oil spill began. With classes over, Fisher was looking forward to spending a little extra time on his farm, located 25 miles east of State College. But that was before the calls started to come in from federal agencies.

Over a period of about a week, Fisher was contacted independently by program officers from the National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM). All had financially supported Fisher’s research in the Gulf in the past, and all were now calling on him to help assess the impact and damage of the oil spill to the deep-sea ecosystems he knows so well.

Fisher “was selected as an expert based on his extensive and unique experience working on the ecology of the cold seep and deep-sea coral communities in deep-sea, hard-bottom habitats in the Gulf of Mexico,” says Robert Ricker, southwest region branch chief of NOAA’s Office of Response and Restoration. “He is a recognized leader in his field, and we pick leaders.”

Fisher agreed to help. After all, he already was leading another big research program that had overlapping goals — to locate, describe, and study deep-water coral communities throughout the Gulf of Mexico that could potentially be impacted by energy company activities.

Coral impacted by the Deepwater Horizon spill

For nearly three decades, Fisher has been studying the physiology and the ecology of the communities of animals that inhabit cold seeps — areas of the ocean floor where methane and other hydrocarbon-rich fluid seeps out — and hydrothermal vents — underwater fissures in the Earth’s surface that emit geothermally heated water rich in reduced chemicals — in the deep sea. Marine invertebrates such as clams and tubeworms live in these dark places, surviving the lack of sunlight by forming symbiotic associations with bacteria. The bacteria use the reduced chemical compounds contained in the water as an energy source and, in turn, supply nutrition to their animal hosts.

Fisher has visited these deep places in submarines some 120 times. “When you’re down there, you feel like you’re on another planet because the landscape is like nothing you’ll see on the surface of the Earth,” he says. “You’re oftentimes in a place where nobody has been before, so you have in the back of your mind that you may see something that nobody has ever seen. Every once in a while you do.”
Among his accomplishments are the discovery of ice worms living on methane-rich ice at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico and the unraveling of the complex physiological ecology of giant hydrocarbon-seep tubeworms, among the longest-lived animals on Earth. The bizarre two-meter-long tubeworms use their buried roots to suck up toxic hydrogen sulfide that lies deep in the sediments of the seafloor. They then pass the hydrogen sulfide to symbiotic bacteria living inside their bodies.

These bacteria, in turn, oxidize the sulfide and provide nutrition back to the worms. The end product is sulfuric acid, which the tubeworms pump back into the sediments, where yet other bacteria use methane to remake the sulfide and supply it back to the worms.

Whenever possible, he works with Jim Brooks, president and CEO of TDI Brooks International, a company that specializes in conducting offshore surface geochemical exploration for petroleum producers.

“Jim’s group discovered seep communities in the Gulf of Mexico in the 1980s when he was on the faculty at Texas A&M University,” says Fisher. “I’ve been involved in multiple projects with him over the years. In addition to his expertise in oil geochemistry and prospecting, his company can handle all the administration, travel, budgets, and reporting, and I get to just concentrate on the science.”

So in October 2010, with TDI Brooks International managing the expedition, Fisher and his colleagues set out for the Gulf of Mexico on board the NOAA ship, the Ronald H. Brown.

Discovering Damaged Corals
For nearly a month, the team revisited deep-sea coral sites all over the northern Gulf of Mexico that they had discovered the year before during a previous project. Each time they stopped, they used Jason II — a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) or submersible designed for scientific investigation of the deep ocean and seafloor — to sample and study corals and associated animals.

“We revisited all of the sites for which we had good baseline data,” says Fisher. “We were all quite pleased to find that there was no obvious damage to the deep-water coral communities at any of these sites.”
Although they had covered a four hundred-mile span east to west and a depth range from 1,300 feet to almost 6,500 feet, Fisher and his colleagues had observed only a couple of coral sites close by the Macondo well. So, on the last dive of the expedition they decided to check out a very promising area they had identified about seven miles southwest of the well and 45 miles from shore.

The research vessel coasted to a stop with nothing but the occasional seabird in flight to break the monotony of the view. Six hours into the ROV’s dive, Fisher was working in the ship’s laboratory, glancing up every now and then at the 36-inch screen through which video was streaming from the vehicle’s camera, now positioned 4,500 feet below the ocean’s surface. As the ROV moved across the seabed, the camera recorded scenes of mud, mud, and more mud, he remembers. Then, all of a sudden, a coral popped into view, and another and another. But something was wrong. The animals were not brightly colored as they are supposed to be.

Fisher recalls jumping up and sprinting across the deck of the ship to the control van. “Stop!” he warned. “Don’t touch anything!”

The ROV pilots were about to take a sample, but he asked them instead to zoom in with the camera. What he saw were corals covered in dark gunk and dripping snot. “When a coral is physically insulted, it reacts by exuding mucus,” he explains. “It’s a normal stress reaction. It helps to clear the surface if there’s something irritating or sticking on it.” To avoid stressing the animals further, the team decided to minimize sampling.

“Normally we would take little pieces of lots of different corals for genetic identification and population genetic studies,” Fisher says, “but we decided to back off on that and try to do our sampling around the edges, taking only samples of corals that we didn’t recognize. We also collected one of the impacted corals so we could take a closer look at the gunk and what was underneath and determine whether the coral branch was dead or alive.”

By the end of the cruise, the team had visited 14 sites, all but one of which were at distances greater than nine miles from the Macondo well. Only corals at that last site, just under seven miles southwest of the well, had clearly been impacted.

As the researchers headed home with their samples, they began to discuss future expeditions. They knew that impact to at least some corals could be readily identified visually and, since the organisms are attached to rocks and don’t swim or float away when impacted, they provide a record of past events. Their next steps would be to discover the full extent of the oil spill’s reach with regard to corals, and to determine the animals’ ultimate fate. Would they live or would they die?

Learn how Fisher’s colleague Iliana Baums is investigating the use of molecular tools to detect signs of stress in corals before they become ill.

The Impact
On five subsequent cruises over the next two years, Fisher and his team have explored for additional sites and revisited the established ones to check the corals’ statuses. They have carefully monitored about 50 of the corals that they first discovered in November 2011. Those that were not too heavily impacted seem to be recovering.

“When I say recover,” notes Fisher, “I don’t mean that tissue died and the coral got better. I mean they were covered with slime, but they never died. These corals still do not look as healthy as corals at other sites, and we may have to monitor them for several years before we will know their ultimate fate.”

The corals that were heavily impacted, on the other hand, are largely not recovering. “We are seeing absolute proof of total death of parts of them,” says Fisher. Since corals are colonial, branching animals, parts of them can die while other parts remain alive.

Specifically, at the first damaged site they witnessed — the last site of the October cruise — the researchers have discovered that 86 percent of the coral colonies show signs of damage, with 46 percent exhibiting impact to more than half the colony, and 23 percent displaying more than 90 percent damage.

At each site visited, the researchers deployed markers and set up permanent monitoring stations with a goal of returning to them again and again to monitor both natural processes and, potentially, long-term effects.

“At that depth and at those temperatures in the deep sea, life passes at a slow pace,” notes Fisher. “These are animals that often live 500 years. They live slow; they die slow. We’ll have to monitor the sites for a decade before we’ll have very much confidence we know the full extent of the impact.”

What’s Next?
The team’s second cruise, which took place in December 2010 and made use of the Alvin deep-diving submarine, included Helen White, a geochemist from Haverford College. White used state-of-the art oil fingerprinting technology and determined that the brown muck on the corals did, indeed, include oil from the Macondo well.

Fisher’s research to date has demonstrated that the Deepwater Horizon oil spill killed some corals. As a result, BP is going to have to pay. But how much and to whom?

“People have asked me how much a dolphin is worth, and there is no clear-cut answer,” says Timothy Zink, spokesperson for NOAA, the organization that oversees natural resource damage assessments performed by researchers like Fisher, tabulates the check for the parties responsible, and formulates and carries out a plan for restoring the ecosystem.

“The public needs to be compensated for its losses, and not just for the resource itself, but for the human use of the resource — such as recreational fishing, bird watching, and going to the beach — as well,” said Zink. “The final price that BP will pay will be based on the full cost of restoring the environment back to what it was on the day the oil spill happened.”

Unfortunately for deep-water corals, the full effects of the spill may not be felt for many years, too late for any near-term settlement to fully cover them.

“I believe everyone involved would like to settle as soon as we can,” says Fisher. “However, the full extent of damage to deep-sea ecosystems may not manifest itself until after a settlement is reached. If corals all over the deep gulf start dying, and we thought only those very close to the Macondo well would die, then we have to reassess the situation.” In that case, Zink says, the investigation could be reopened.

BP has already paid over $20 billion to cover some of the damages from the spill, and in a November 2012 settlement with the Justice Department, agreed to pay $4 billioon in criminal fines. The company has also committed hundreds of millions to research into understanding the effects of oil spills on ecosystems and preventing future disasters.

Despite the trouble the oil spill caused for deep-sea ecosystems, Fisher says he’s not against deep-water drilling for oil. “As much as I love the ocean, there are a lot of resources in the ocean, and as long as I drive a car, it would be pretty hypocritical of me to say that we shouldn’t obtain those resources for human use,” he notes. “I’m conflicted in the way I feel about it, but I don’t think this means we should stop accessing oil in the marine environment.

“I think, in general, oil companies try pretty damn hard to be responsible.” Fisher adds. “It’s in their best interest to be responsible. This has cost BP billions of dollars; they don’t want it to happen again. In a way, this oil spill has been a beneficial wake-up call in that it tells us that the unthinkable can happen. I think a result of it will be better oversight by oil companies and the federal government.”

Charles R. Fisher is professor of biology, cfisher@psu.edu.

deep corals
This photo, taken as part of a major research project led by Penn State Professor of Biology Charles Fisher, shows a reef formed by the coral species Lophelia pertusa at 450m below the surface of the Gulf of Mexico with an orange brisingid starfish in the foreground and a school of fish overhead.
Image: Image courtesy of Lophelia II 2010 Expedition, NOAA OER BOEM

Special thanks to Richard Charter

The Advertiser.com: Study urges spending on coastal restoration

http://gazette.com/study-urges-spending-on-coastal-restoration/article/feed/20921
Written by Janet McConnaughey Associated Press

I think it is very strange to see EDF team up with Walmart’s foundation and downright wrong that Alabama is funding a convention center out of restoration funds that should be going to improve water quality in the Gulf. DV

July 10, 2013

NEW ORLEANS -Wildlife tourism, from hunting and fishing to bird and dolphin watching, is a $19 billion-a-year business along the Gulf of Mexico, and states spending their settlement money from the 2010 BP oil spill should focus on restoring ecologically sensitive areas that keep guides, hotels and others working, a study says.

The study, commissioned by the Environmental Defense Fund and the Walton Family Foundation, was released Tuesday at a replica of a historic lighthouse while the seafood restaurant next door geared up for lunch and sailboats set out on Lake Ponchartrain.

Wildlife tourism brings in 20 million visitors who pay $5.3 billion a year in federal state and local taxes, according to the study, which drew financial and tourist data from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the federal Bureau of Labor Standards and from parish and county tourism bureaus.

Wildlife watching draws 11.5 million people a year to Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida, according to the study. It said recreational fishing attracts 7.5 million visitors and hunting 2.7 million.

The 53 coastal counties and parishes in those states have more than 25,000 tourism-related businesses and nearly 500,000 associated jobs, it said.

The study by Datu Research LLC of Durham, N.C., was released in Louisiana because its marshes and estuaries are the nursery for 90 percent of the Gulf states’ seafood fisheries, said Jim Wyerman, spokesman for the Environmental Defense Fund. The state’s 400 miles of coastline are so fringed with wetlands that they comprise 7,700 miles of shoreline.

“Unlike the other states, we don’t have the pristine beaches and hotels along the beaches,” said Capt. Ryan Lambert, owner of Cajun Fishing Adventures in Buras. “So our wetlands are vitally important.”

That’s why BP money should go into restoring coastal marshes and estuaries, said Jefferson Parish President John Young.

The study includes a state-by-state list of 1,100 coastal guides and outfitters. Those companies bring in business for 11,000 restaurants, hotels and motels, it said.

An email survey of 106 guides and outfitters found that 55 percent said at least half their clients ask for restaurant recommendations; 40 percent said at least half their clients ask for hotel recommendations. Restaurants and hotels and motels also recommend guide businesses, it said.

BP PLC has provided $1 billion as a “down payment” for coastal restoration from the spill, which spewed more than 200 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. It says it has spent more than $24 billion on spill-related expenses, including cleanup costs and compensation for businesses and individuals.

A trial set to resume in September will decide how much money the federal government and Gulf Coast states should get under the Clean Water Act, the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 and other environmental regulations.

Projects approved this year for some of the first $1 billion in restoration money range from $320 million to increase the size of four barrier islands off Louisiana to an $85.5 million project to improve a beachfront park in Alabama and build a convention center hotel there.

“We know now, in 2013, the direct, positive linkage between environmental protection along the coast and economic opportunity -and even economic survival,” said Steve Cochran, director of the Environmental Defense Fund’s Mississippi River Delta Reconstruction Program.

“We have this opportunity -from a tragic source -to do a lot of things that we know we should do to protect our economy. They’re environmental things but they protect our economy.”

Special thanks to Richard Charter

PNJ.com: Vessel to study the oil spill’s effects – Sea Shepherd, Ocean Alliance partner to research whales in Gulf

http://www.pnj.com/

Jul. 4, 2013 |

Written by Kevin Robinson

Ocean Alliance Founder Roger Payne and a group of environmental activists with the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society are making a port of call in Pensacola on board the RV Odyssey. The conservation group and the 93-foot research vessel is operating in the Gulf of Mexico collecting data on whales and sea-life in the gulf as it relates to the BP oil spill.

seashepard
Watching the Whales: Listen to Eliza Muirhead, discuss how 12 members of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and Ocean Alliance’s mission, Operation Toxic Gulf, will spend the remainder of July tracking sperm whales 100 miles off the coast of the Gulf of Mexico.

The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and the Ocean Alliance have arrived in Pensacola with the 93-foot research vessel RV Odyssey. The group is making a port of call in Pensacola as part of its Operation Toxic Gulf mission in the Gulf of Mexico. / Tony Giberson/tgiberson@pnj.com

An International crew of the scientists and activists will be docking in Pensacola periodically this month while they study the effects of the BP oil spill. About 12 members of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and Ocean Alliance will spend the remainder of July tracking sperm whales 100 miles out in the Gulf of Mexico.

“The sperm whale is at the top of the food chain, so all of the toxins consumed by smaller animals eventually end up accumulating inside the sperm whales,” crew member Eliza Muirhead said. The crew of the Odyssey will examine changes in sperm whale health and behavior to get a snapshot of how toxins from the Deep Water Horizon oil spill and the chemical dispersant sprayed to contain it are affecting marine ecology. To help people understand their research and its ramifications, the crew allowed the public to tour the Odyssey on Wednesday. About a dozen people wandered the 93-foot craft, snapping pictures and asking questions.

The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society is a controversial environmental group featured on the popular Discovery Channel program “Whale Wars.” The group has gained notoriety for its aggressive tactics pursuing, harassing and sometimes boarding Japanese ships in the Southern Ocean conducting research by killing whales. Sea Shepherd contends the Japanese whaling operation is illegal and immoral. “My brother and nephew watch ‘Whales Wars,’ so when they told me they were coming down I decided to come along,” said Wendy Hauman. “I got to talk to the crew and the scientists. It’s cool to see what they do in person and see live some of what they do on TV.”

The team has a full laboratory on the ship to begin preliminary analysis of the data collected during the expedition. Lead researcher Robert Payne said it could be up to a year before the findings of the study are published.
Payne, the founder of Ocean Alliance, has studied whale behavior since 1967. He and colleague Scott McVay are credited for discovering that humpback whales sing songs.

Payne said that by partnering, Ocean Alliance and the Sea Shepherds are able to accomplish goals they could never have achieved alone. “The value of this study is that normally scientists work in their own little world,” Payne said. “People who take action work in a whole different world. Those two worlds are finally getting together.”
Payne said that by pairing the research-minded Ocean Alliance and the action-oriented members of the Sea Shepherds, the expedition could more fully investigate an environmental disaster that he said has been largely marginalized by special interests and the federal government.

“The mission of one side is to confuse things and our job is to clarify,” Payne said. “We’re dealing with a problem you can’t see, so it’s easy for people to pretend it doesn’t exist.” The research expedition will be documented online on the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and Ocean Alliance Facebook pages.

Special thanks to Richard Charter

The Examiner.com: LDWF fisheries closures around Grand Terre Islands prompt BP outcry

http://www.nationalfisherman.com/news-events/top-news/1583-louisiana-fisheries-closures-prompt-bp-outcry
also at:
http://www.examiner.com/article/ldwf-fisheries-closures-around-grand-terre-islands-prompt-bp-outcry

National Fisherman

JULY 2, 2013 BY: LAURIE WIEGLER

Seafood Is Tested For Signs Of Oil Contamination

Snapper are filleted at Inland Seafood in NOLA in August of 2010. Chemical and “sniff testing” of fish began after the spill. Three years later, there are mixed views on whether Gulf seafood is safe to eat.

On the 28th, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Secretary Robert Barham announced that additional areas of Grand Terre Islands were closed. In a press release, the LDWF said that, tar mats located during ongoing surveys were removed this week in the intertidal and subtidal areas of Grand Terre Islands. Some of those mats were in areas that are already closed, however some additional closures were required.

The area closed is the portion of state outside waters “seaward a distance of one-half mile from the shoreline from the southwestern shore of east Grand Terre at -89 degrees 54 minutes 04 seconds west longitude; thence eastward along the shoreline to the southeastern shore of Grand Terre at -89 degrees 51 minutes 39 seconds west longitude; thence eastward along 29 degrees 18 minutes 46 seconds north latitude to -89 degrees 51 minutes 19 seconds west longitude.

The LDWF did this following the announcement that “state health leaders” called for the ban after flesh-eating bacteria were suspected in these coastal waters, reports WBRZ. However, this was not mentioned in LDWF’s official press release on its web site.

The LDWF’s actions drew a response from BP today, who issued their own press release claiming that actions such as these hurt the image of the state, and once again reassured the public that they believe Gulf seafood is safe to eat.

Nevertheless, LDWF says:
[that] no person shall take/possess or attempt to take any species of fish for commercial purposes from waters within the closed area. The possession, sale, barter, trade or exchange of any fish or other aquatic life from the closed area during the closure is prohibited.

All commercial fishing is prohibited in the closed areas. Recreational fishing is limited to recreational rod and reel fishing which includes licensed charter boat guides.

Commercial fishing activities prohibited are: shrimping, trawling, skimming, butterflying, crabbing, flounder and garfish gigging, cast netting, oyster harvesting, gill netting, hoop netting, minnow trapping, rod and reeling, jug lining, using a bow and arrow, purse seining, set lining and spear gunning.

Prohibited recreational fishing means no crabbing, shrimping, flounder gigging, cast netting, bait seining, bow fishing, spearing, snagging and dip netting. Charter boat and recreational angling are still allowed.

According to BP, not one test [of Gulf seafood] has exceeded thresholds for human health established by the Food and Drug Administration. Gulf seafood is the most rigorously tested seafood in the country, and every test conducted – by multiple state and federal agencies – has shown the same thing: Gulf seafood is safe.

BP says that by extending fishery closures, the state may help perpetuate the myth that consumers should avoid Gulf seafood and tourists should avoid Louisiana’s waters. When no scientific basis is provided for the decision, Louisiana does a disservice to the thousands of people who work in the commercial fishing, recreational fishing, and tourism industries and who depend on those industries for their livelihoods.

The state’s decision to extend the fishery closure appears to be groundless, and that hurts the people of Louisiana and the reputation of the state.

However, readers should note that these closures of recreational and commercial fishing have been implemented based on the Secretary of the Department’s information received from biologists and other scientists.

BP is still in the midst of a contentious civil trial in New Orleans, where not only billions, but the company’s gravely tarnished image, are at stake .

Here is a map detailing this closure. Here is another area map that highlights the fishing closures in red. For a complete list of press releases that detail the history of closures and openings in the area following the spill, please click here.

Note: An earlier version of this article today did not include the link to flesh-eating bacteria. Also, the original photo caption said Gulf seafood isn’t safe to eat and it has been corrected to express there are mixed views. Also, the original caption referred to sniff test “fishing” and that has also been corrected to sniff “testing” of fish.- lw

Special thanks to Richard Charter.

PR Newswire: Health Problems Still Plaguing Many BP Oil Spill Cleanup Workers

Find this article at: http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/health-problems-still-plaguing-many-bp-oil-spill-cleanup-workers-213828351.html

The Life Care Solutions Group discusses the unmet needs of many BP oil spill workers who’ve faced challenges in getting help for their injuries.
< NEW ORLEANS, July 1, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- Following the 2010 BP oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, a number of response workers reported being stricken with ailments purportedly linked to cleanup efforts. For many workers with limited resources to find medical help, there remains a need to have concerns about resulting medical conditions addressed, even three years after the spill. The Life Care Solutions Group has developed a resource for response workers and volunteers who have questions about how to receive medical and legal help if they have been plagued with health problems linked to participation in the oil spill cleanup. Help for BP Oil Spill Cleanup Workers Many individuals involved in the BP oil spill cleanup were migrant workers, service industry workers, and Gulf Coast residents who volunteered in the effort, and lacked health care coverage or other means to pay for proper medical care. Thousands of workers spent months working to clean up oil, applying chemical dispersants, and completing other tasks in an attempt to restore the Gulf Coast to a safe environment for residents, businesses, tourists, and ecosystems, not knowing of the extent of exposure to toxic chemicals they were subjected to. The BP Gulf Oil Spill Help Desk is available for those who have been plagued with health problems including conditions of the stomach, skin, respiratory system and more. For those who still have questions about whether they are eligible to receive compensation for their injuries from funds set aside by BP for the damage caused, the help desk can also address their inquiries. A free medical review is being offered to those who visit the help desk and contact the Life Care Solutions Group today. About the BP Gulf Oil Spill Help Desk The BP Gulf Oil Spill Help Desk is a resource, developed by the Life Care Solutions Group, made available to support workers who have been left with health problems attributable to Gulf Coast cleanup efforts. The Life Care Solutions Group is comprised of a network of medical and legal experts who assist individuals in need of information regarding their legal rights in a BP oil spill settlement or medical options after sustaining a serious injury. Individuals can visit the BP Gulf Oil Spill Help Desk online today to request a free medical assessment or assistance with a BP gulf oil spill claim. For more information about the BP Gulf Oil Spill Help Desk, please visit http://disasters.lifecare123.com. CONTACT: Lyn Giguere, Lyn@submitmypressrelease.com, +1-972-437-8952 SOURCE Life Care Solutions Group RELATED LINKS http://disasters.lifecare123.com Special thanks to Richard Charter

NRDC: New oil spill money released for Gulf Coast restoration

http://www.mississippiriverdelta.org/blog/2013/07/01/new-oil-spill-money-released-for-gulf-coast-restoration/#sthash.IGFi7vyF.dpuf

July 1, 2013 | Posted by Delta Dispatches in BP Oil Disaster, Congress, Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA), Restoration Projects
By Mordechai Treiger, Environmental Defense Fund

Last month, Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) Trustees from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill incident announced Phase III of their Early Restoration efforts. The NRDA Trustees include representatives from the five Gulf Coast states and four federal agencies who are charged with assessing damage to natural resources, such as marshes, sea grasses, birds and marine mammals, stemming from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

turtle
Oiled Kemps Ridley turtle (credit: NOAA).

Phase III represents the largest collection of NRDA proposals to date, encompassing 28 proposals intended to restore ecosystem health and lost recreational opportunities across five states. At $320 million, the biggest of these new projects will be to rehabilitate Mississippi River Delta ecosystems devastated by the oil spill and subsequent cleanup efforts. Called the Louisiana Outer Coast Restoration project, it will restore damaged barrier islands in Plaquemines and Terrebonne Parishes by rebuilding beaches, dunes and back-barrier marsh habitat.

Restoration workers will deposit sediment in an effort to create new land, install sand fencing to encourage dune growth and plant native species across the island in an effort to combat erosion. The strengthened barrier islands will protect wetlands along the delta’s coastline as well as provide critical habitat for a variety of wildlife that suffered in the aftermath of the spill, including fish, shellfish and birds. The cost of the Louisiana Outer Coast Restoration project is expected to cost $320 million.

Previously, the NRDA Trustees finalized the first phase of early NRDA projects, which included eight restoration projects spread across five gulf states in April 2012, and the second phase of early NRDA projects, which introduced an additional two restoration projects in November 2012. In addition to the $71 million committed to Early Restoration in Phases I and II, the new projects will bring restoration spending totals under NRDA to well over $600 million.

Oiled marsh
Oiled marsh in Barataria Bay, La. (credit: NOAA).

All NRDA projects, from Phase I through Phase III, are being negotiated and funded in accordance with the $1 billion Early Framework Agreement signed by the NRDA Trustees and BP in April of 2011. The Framework Agreement was largely seen as a positive step toward restoring the Gulf when it was signed, but since then, money has been slow to flow under the agreement. The NRDA Trustees recently announced their intention to delay further implementation of early restoration, including the recently announced Phase III projects, until the completion of a programmatic Environmental Impact Statement for all Deepwater Horizon oil spill recovery efforts. Nevertheless, the Trustees remain committed to swiftly advancing these important ecosystem restoration projects with all deliberate speed.

At a June 6 U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation hearing, Rachel Jacobson, Acting Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks at the Department of Interior, underlined the urgency of Gulf restoration, stating, “Interior fully recognizes, without hesitation, that the time to begin restoration is now.” She went on to promise that early restoration efforts would not come at the expense of, or otherwise undermine, the ultimate goal of complete restoration. “We will not stop until the entire billion is obligated,” Jacobson continued. “It is important to note that our early restoration efforts in no way affect our ongoing assessment work or our ability to recover from BP the full measure of damages needed for complete restoration.”

Columbia County Observer: Gulf Cleanup: “Shrimp With No Eyes. Crabs With No Claws. No Surprise and Predictable” plus A Call for a Change in Oil Spill Response

http://columbiacountyobserver.com/master_files/Florida_News_2013/13_0701_gulf-clean-up-fish-with-no-eyes.html

Columbia County Observer, Columbia County, Florida

A Call For A Twenty-First-Century Solution In Oil Spill Response
Posted July 1, 2013 05:25 am

“What if that dark area were crude oil and your job was to clean it up without damaging the environment; could you do it?”

By Barbara Wiseman
International President, Lawrence Anthony Earth Organization

I appreciate that you are keeping this issue alive in the news: A Deadly Paradox: Scientists Discover the Agent Used in Gulf Spill Cleanup Is Destroying Marine Life. The devastation that is continuing to occur in the Gulf as a result of the on-going application of Corexit is jaw-dropping and heartbreaking. The article mentioned that Corexit 9527 is more toxic than Corexit 9500.

Toward the beginning of the spill, when the public began to get an idea of how toxic Corexit 9527 was and began demanding that something else be used, the EPA sent a letter to BP giving them 24 hours to find another chemical dispersant on their approved list of products on the National Contingency Plan (NCP) for Oil and Hazardous Chemical Spills.

The EPA did not say a safer product on the NCP list. They demanded another chemical dispersant.

The EPA did this knowing that because of the monopoly it has created for Exxon’s Corexit over the past 25 years, (they have never allowed any other product to be used on U.S. navigable waters when an actual spill happens, despite the fact that there are numerous other products on the NCP list that are less toxic, less expensive and demonstrably more effective), that BP would have to come back saying that the only product that was stockpiled in enough quantities for deployment on a spill of this size was Corexit.

The “solution” was to acquiesce by switching to Corexit 9500.

The public was appeased, but duped, because they didn’t know that per the science and chemical information regarding 9500, 9500 is only slightly less toxic than 9527 by itself, but once it is applied to oil, the combination becomes more toxic than the combination of 9527 and oil. The idea that scientists are just now finding how destructive Corexit is, is totally inaccurate.

Every chemical manufacturer has to fill out a Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) on their product and submit it to the EPA and make it generally available. Both Corexits, 9527 and 9500, specifically say on the MSDS, “Don’t contaminate surface waters [with this product].” Yet, as of July 2010, close to 2 million gallons were sprayed on and injected into the Gulf waters. Because the spraying has continued, this figure is far higher now. The EPA applies a graduated numbering system to chemicals regarding their toxicity level. The higher the number, the less toxic it is.

One product on the NCP list that effectively and thoroughly cleans up oil is so non-toxic you can take a swig of it and it won’t hurt you has a toxicity number of 1400.

Corexit’s toxicity number ranges between 2 and 15, depending on the test. You almost can’t get more toxic than that. The MSDS sheet says that the product is low risk.

However, if you read the fine print, you will find that it is only low risk as long as you rigorously follow the safety guidelines of wearing a full respirator and full hazardous materials suit. In other words, don’t breathe any in and don’t get any on you. If you do, all bets are off. The MSDS list is easily accessible.

The fact that Corexit keeps being touted as “safe as dish detergent” is patently false. This statement is made because Corexit contains 2BTE (2 Butoxy Ethanol) in it. 2BTE can be found in Dawn dish detergent. However, what they don’t say is that 2BTE is a tiny fraction of Dawn dish detergent, while it makes up at least 70% of the volume Corexit.

2BTE is mutagenic (causes mutations), teratagenic (causes birth defects and problems with procreation), and carcinogenic (cancer causing).

All of the devastation that has occurred to the marine life in the Gulf: the shrimp with no eyes, crabs with no eyes and claws, fish with open lesions, fish with tumors, huge increase in dolphin miscarriages, and massive depopulation of the marine life is no surprise and was utterly predictable.

The Lawrence Anthony Earth Organization has written a position paper on this subject, A Call for a Twenty-First-Century Solution in Oil Spill Response. It covers all of this in depth.

Learn more: Change Oil Spill Response Now?

In 2003, Barbara was the Executive Director of a management consulting firm in Los Angeles, CA, when Dr. Lawrence Anthony asked her to help him create the Lawrence Anthony Earth Organization. Until Dr. Anthony’s passing in 2012, they worked together to build and expand LAEO’s reach around the world. Mrs. Wiseman holds the functions of Executive Director for LAEO US, LAEO US Board member, as well as LAEO’s International President. Beginning with the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, Barbara began researching to find effective methods that could be immediately implemented to swiftly and thoroughly clean up the toxic oil and chemical dispersants that so negatively impacted the wildlife, marine life, and public’s health. Once solutions were found, she has then lead LAEO’s campaign to break down arbitrary barriers put in place by government regulators, and now expanded LAEO’s focus to all oil spills around the world.

Here is an excerpt from the paper:
DV

A Call for Change in Oil Spill Response:

* Ban the use of toxic chemical dispersants or any other scientifically identified toxic agent used for oil spill “cleanup,” in US navigable waters and all environments.

* Revise and correct the National Contingency Plan and all related guidance documents referenced by regional and area response teams to reflect current science and information, specifically including

» the immediate withdrawal of the EPA’s preapproval (blanket authorization) for the use of dispersants in US navigable waters as part of the National Contingency Plan;

» correction of all material guiding the use of Bioremediation Agents, to remove the misinformation and to list EA type as a first-response non-toxic option;

» add the article BIOREMEDIATION TECHNIQUES, CATEGORY DEFINITIONS, AND MODES OF ACTION IN MARINE AND FRESHWATER ENVIRONMENTS to the NRT, RRT, NOAA, and Coast Guard published bioremediation materials to reeducate all team members on the corrected science concerning bioremediation.

* Exert pressure on the US EPA to issue the necessary authorization for nontoxic bioremediation methods already screened by EPA scientists and approved (Bioremediation Agent Type EA, OSE II) to be deployed immediately to bring the Gulf waters and associated
environments back to good health.

* Raise pollution removal standards up to the original intent of the Clean Water Act by requiring all companies that have the potential through their working processes of creating oil spills to include NCP-listed products that are nontoxic in their cleanup protocols, ensuring their plans employ methods that swiftly and completely remove oil from a spill area.

If you find this to be a worthwhile message and purpose, please help us by passing it on to others. Your help and support is welcome and appreciated.
Contact Information:
Lawrence Anthony Science & Technology Advisory Board
Phone: 818-769-3410
E-mail: info@theearthorganization.org

Strategic Partnerships
International President
Barbara Wiseman
E-mail: barbara@theearthorganization.org
Phone: 818-769-3410

Media Inquiries
Advisory Board
Diane Wagenbrenner
E-mail: info@theearthorganization.org
Phone: 818-769-3410

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FLDEP: GOVERNOR SCOTT SIGNS AGREEMENT WITH THE GULF CONSORTIUM TO IMPLEMENT RESTORE FUNDING

> From: “Florida Department of Environmental Protection”
> Subject: GOVERNOR SCOTT SIGNS AGREEMENT WITH THE GULF CONSORTIUM TO IMPLEMENT RESTORE FUNDING
> Date: June 28, 2013 11:11:02 AM EDT
> Reply-To: FloridaDEP@public.govdelivery.com
> content.govdelive/6F58FB55.jpg

> FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: June 28, 2013
> CONTACT: media@eog.myflorida.com 850.717.9282

> ~The agreement marks significant progress in maximizing funds coming to Florida~

> TALLAHASSEE -Governor Rick Scott today announced that he has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Gulf Consortium to create a process to develop Florida’s State Expenditure Plan for RESTORE funding.

> Governor Scott said, “We need to do everything in our power to make Florida communities impacted by the BP oil spill whole again – and I’m pleased to work with the Gulf Consortium to develop projects for the State Expenditure Plan. Development of a comprehensive and thoughtful plan will ensure that Florida moves towards environmental and economic recovery of the Gulf.”
>
> “This agreement with the Governor provides us with the opportunity to fully coordinate the collective efforts of all levels of government to restore and protect Florida’s gulf waters,” said Grover Robinson, Escambia County Commissioner and Gulf Consortium Chairman. “The Gulf Consortium is ready to get to work on a transparent plan that will best enhance the economic and environmental recovery of our coastal communities and the state of Florida.”
>
> The agreement lays the groundwork for the Gulf Consortium to work with Governor Scott to ensure that funding sources related to the Resources and Ecosystems Sustainability, Tourist Opportunities, and Revived Economies of the Gulf Coast States Act of 2012 (RESTORE Act) are maximized when developing a long term restoration plan for Florida. Key provisions of the Agreement established a streamlined process for review, certification by the Governor, and ultimate submission of projects and programs included in the State Expenditure Plan to the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council.
>
> The RESTORE Act, which was passed by Congress on June 29, 2012, creates the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council, and establishes various funding categories. The RESTORE Act will be funded by Clean Water Act civil and administrative penalties paid by responsible parties from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The Council is comprised of the five Gulf State Governors and six federal agencies. In Florida the 23 Gulf Coast Counties (Gulf Consortium) are tasked with creating the State Expenditure Plan, which can include both economic and environmental restoration projects.

WWLTV-New Orleans: Gulf Oil Spill–Massive tar mat found along La. coast

http://www.wwltv.com/news/gulf-oil-spill/Massive-tar-mat-found-along-La-coast-213056041.html

wwltv.com
Posted on June 25, 2013 at 8:35 PM
Updated yesterday at 9:26 PM

NEW ORLEANS — Three years after the Deepwater Horizon spill, workers have dug up a massive tar mat found along the Louisiana coast.

The huge chunk of oil residue mixed with wet sand is about 165 feet long by 65 feet wide, according to the U.S. Coast Guard.

It was found under the surf off of Isle Grand Terre, about 90 miles south of New Orleans.
It weighs more than 40,000 pounds, though the Coast Guard says more than 85 percent of that is sand, shells and water.

Louisiana is the last state where BP is still cleaning up after the spill.

Earlier this month, BP and the Coast Guard said the clean-up was over in Alabama, Florida and Mississippi.

BP has reportedly recovered more than 2.7 million pounds of waste from Louisiana shores so far this year, with residual oil making up between 5 to 15 percent of the total weight.

Special thanks to Richard Charter

Times-Picayune: BP, Coast Guard criticized for trying to downgrade oil spill clean-up efforts

http://www.nola.com/environment/index.ssf/2013/06/coastal_authority_criticizes_b.html#incart_m-rpt-2

Nola.com

tar mats 2

Tar mats photographed on the beach at Elmer’s Island in September 2012, a few days after Hurricane Isaac. State officials say they are concerned more oil from the BP spill could surface after tropical storms this year. (Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority)
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By Mark Schleifstein, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune
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on June 19, 2013 at 11:25 PM, updated June 19, 2013 at 11:26 PM

The state Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority used its monthly meeting in Baton Rouge on Wednesday as a bully pulpit to criticize BP and the U.S. Coast Guard for their attempts to downgrade the continued clean-up of oiled wetlands and shoreline areas in Louisiana, in the wake of the 2010 Gulf oil spill triggered by the fatal explosion on the Macondo well.

The authority also criticized the Army Corps of Engineers for the agency’s attempts to turn over to state control completed segments of the post-Katrina New Orleans area levee system before the entire east and west bank system is determined to be complete.

The complaints about BP and the Coast Guard come a week after the company and federal agency announced that they’ve ended official “response” actions involving oil sightings in Mississippi, Alabama and Florida.

The public complaints are in part an effort to forestall a similar move in Louisiana, which authority Chairman Garret Graves said BP has been demanding and the Coast Guard has been threatening to do.

Coast Guard officials have repeatedly denied that they will end official clean-up efforts in Louisiana until it’s clear that contaminated shorelines are clean or that further cleanup would be more detrimental than leaving the remaining oil in place.

Drue Banta Winters, a lawyer who handles BP environmental response issues for Gov. Bobby Jindal, told the authority Wednesday that oil contamination continues to be found in patches along 200 miles of the state’s shoreline.

In April and May, 2.2 million pounds of oily material in Louisiana were collected, compared with 4,112 pounds in the other three states, she said.
A spokesman for BP said the company’s contractors continue to remove oily material from the state’s coastal area.

“We continue to make significant progress in Louisiana where most of our active cleanup activities in 2013 have focused on the barrier islands,” said BP spokesman Jason Ryan. “Over the past 6 months we have drilled over 14,000 auger holes and found that about 3 percent of the locations required any clean-up. Recovery of the material is nearly complete.

“In the marshes, the highest concentrations of oil were found primarily in Upper Barataria Bay and Middle Ground Shoal,” he said. “In Upper Barataria Bay, we have completed active cleanup and are now progressing the segments through the final inspection process.

“At Middle Ground Shoal, the area with the most remaining oiling is about a half-acre in size and includes both MC252 and non-MC252 oil,” Ryan said. BP’s Macondo well also is known as Mississippi Canyon 252, or MC252 for short.

“The Coast Guard has determined that intensive manual and mechanical treatment could do more harm than good. The (federal on-scene coordinator) is considering treatment options, including allowing this small, remote area to recover naturally,” he said. “Our operations in Louisiana will continue until the Coast Guard determines that active cleanup is complete.”

Graves said the state also is upset that the Coast Guard and BP have refused to commit to establishing a plan to inspect Louisiana beaches and wetlands for oil in the aftermath of a tropical storm or hurricane.

When Hurricane Isaac hit Louisiana last August, its storm surges and waves unearthed large quantities of oily material that had been buried beneath the sand along Grand Terre, Grand Isle, Fourchon Beach and Elmer’s Island, and oozing oil was discovered in other wetlands. Within days of the storm, BP contractors were collecting the material, a task that has continued into this year.

In public statements, BP and Coast Guard officials have said they will respond to any apparent resurfacing of oil, and have urged the public to report sightings to the Coast Guard’s National Response Center.

The criticism of the corps surfaced during a briefing by authority executive director Jerome Zeringue on the status of levees for the 2013 hurricane season, which extends through Nov. 30.

The corps has agreed to not turn over several major structures to the state, which would mean the state would be responsible for operating and maintaining them. While the state is the official local sponsor for the projects, the actual operation and maintenance would be done by local levee districts, acting under the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East and -West.

The structures include the storm surge barrier wall along Lake Borgne, which includes a navigation gate for ships and barges at the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway in eastern New Orleans and a smaller navigation gate for fishing vessels on Bayou Bienvenue; a storm surge gate at the Seabrook entrance of the Industrial Canal from Lake Pontchartrain; and the West Closure Complex on the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway on the West Bank, south of the confluence of the Harvey and Algiers canals.

The state and flood protection authority want the corps to operate the navigation gates at Seabrook and on the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway at the Lake Borgne barrier. Legislation pending before Congress would give the corps the responsibility of running only the Lake Borgne GIWW navigation gate.

Operation of the various gates – and operation and maintenance, including grass cutting and levee lifts, along the levees – will cost millions of dollars a year.

Graves said the state has repeatedly demanded that the entire levee system should undergo a comprehensive review before the state accepts authority for it. He said the corps’ attempts to send letters to the state and local levee districts indicating individual segments of the system are being turned over conflict with that plan.

Graves said the state is concerned about a variety of issues that state officials have raised about the design of some parts of the system, including the corps decision to allow contractors to use thicker sheet piling instead of coating the pilings with a material that would resist rust.

An independent peer review that the corps promised concerning the use of the thicker sheet pilings instead of the coatings has never been completed, Graves said.

Also awaiting test results is a decision by the corps on how to “armor” earthen levee segments to assure that storm surge doesn’t cause erosion. Tests on an East Bank levee in St. Charles Parish and a West Bank levee in Jefferson Parish of a fabric material through which grass grows is not yet complete.

_______________

Special thanks to Richard Charter

Sun Herald: 5-year-old among many groups to weigh in on funding for Gulf Restoration

http://www.sunherald.com/2013/06/11/4728129/girl-5-among-those-who-get-messages.html

By PAUL HAMPTON – jphampton@sunherald.com

BILOXI — One of the most effective people at Tuesday night’s meeting on the RESTORE Act didn’t have a great speaking voice, a polished presentation or a bunch of political connections.

Annika Smith of Biloxi did have the exuberance of a 5-year-old and one very connected pal — Justin Ehrenwerth, who eight days ago became chairman of the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council.

“Before I say anything else, I have to tell you about the most exciting thing that’s happened to me in my eight days and it happened just a few minutes ago,” said Ehrenwerth, the Commerce Department’s representative on the council. “There is a young girl and I don’t know if she’s still here, she may have had to leave Š there she in the back, she’s waving. I hope you can see Annika in the back.”

And just like that, most of the several hundred people Coast Convention Center met Annika, the little girl bouncing up and down and waving wildly.

“I’ve been talking about Annika a long time. She was here when we were here in February and she was handing out these buttons that say
‘Restoring our Ecosystem Restores Our Economy.”

Ehrenwerth said at that meeting he couldn’t wait to get his button, but before he got the chance Annika’s bedtime arrived and she had to leave. But she’d heard the request.
“She wrote me the nicest letter in my favorite color of crayon — thank you for that — and included a few stickers. I’ve been really looking forward to this and hoping you’d be here tonight. So thank you for being here.”

Later she said she was handing out the stickers (“They’re not buttons, they’re stickers”) for a friend, Mark LaSalle, the director of the Pascagoula River Audubon Center in Moss Point. She said after she sent Ehrenwerth his sticker, he sent her a thank-you note.
“That was nice,” she said.

A parade of ideas

Then came a parade of people — someone from just about every activist organization on the Coast, it seemed — to give their thoughts on the council’s draft plan to spend money the government has received and will receive in the wake of the BP oil disaster. There was the Audubon Society, the Coastal Conservation Association, the Steps Coalition, Boat People SOS, Oxfam, the Sierra Club, Gulf Restoration Network, Women of the Storm, Ocean Conservancy, Asian Americans for Change, Nature Conservancy and others.

One theme that emerged was similar to Annika’s stickers — restoration and economic development go hand in hand.

Avery Bates of the Organized Seafood Association of Alabama commended Mississippi for rebuilding the oyster reefs.

“It’s a major, major improvement to the environment, the ecosystem, because of the work that that little oyster does,” he said. “And he’s wonderful eating. And we like to feed the people in Alabama and Mississippi, where many of our people have to come to make a living. We literally have thousands and thousands of people who depend on us for their seafood. And we want to commend you for starting off right by building back not only the ecosystem but also the economy.”

Distrust remains

But another theme was equally evident. There was skepticism, in some cases outright distrust, that the people would ever know how the money was spent or that it would be spent on projects that have nothing to do with restoration.

“The state of Mississippi is going to be completely oriented toward figuring out ways to pour concrete, build buildings and help the contractor buddies who helped get them into office,’ said Steve Shepard, Gulf Coast Group chair of the Sierra Club. “That’s the way the state of Mississippi works.”

Mike Murphy of The Nature Conservancy said one way to help ensure the money was allocated fairly would be to develop a ranking system “that is transparent.”
Many of the Vietnamese were worried they were being left out because the draft plan wasn’t translated and the meeting was being held the day shrimp season started, when many were out on their shrimp boats.

Grace Scire of Boat People SOS said her organization had finished a translation just the night before. She, too, urged the council to send out its meeting notices in more than just English.

About the plan

The plan, which provides a broad outline of the process to apply for RESTORE Act money and describes the process for the approval of each state’s plan to spend BP money, could be finished as early as July, officials at the meeting said. It also sets broad goals for restoration of the Gulf.

The council was established by the act and comprises the governors of the five Gulf states and officials from six federal agencies: Agriculture, Army, Commerce, EPA, Homeland Security and Interior.

The council’s website says it will soon:
– Refine its objectives and criteria for evaluating projects

– Establish advisory committees

– Develop regulations for allocating oil-spill money

– Release a schedule for submitting proposals

– Publish a list of programs and projects that will be funded over the next three years

– Adopt a 10-year funding strategy for money expected to be provided by the companies responsible for the disaster

Special thanks to Richard Charter

Times-Picayune: Gulf restoration draft plan lacks required priority list, spending allocation plan

Noal.com

Mark Schleifstein, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune By Mark Schleifstein, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune
on May 23, 2013 at 7:46 PM, updated May 23, 2013 at 8:10 PM

The federal-state body that will oversee the spending of billions of dollars in Clean Water Act fines resulting from the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill on Thursday released a “draft initial comprehensive plan” for spending the money on projects that will restore the coast’s natural resources and also benefit the Gulf Coast’s economy.

The 20-page document released by the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council, accompanied by a 112-page environmental assessment and a list of several hundred potential federal and state projects and programs that have been authorized but not yet begun, is required under the federal RESTORE Act, which dedicates 80 percent of the oil spill fine money to restoration projects along the Gulf Coast and in the Gulf of Mexico. The other 20 percent goes into a trust fund to cover the cost of future oil spills.

But the plan doesn’t include a 10-year plan for allocating the money or a three-year priority list of projects and programs to be funded, both of which were required to be completed by now by the RESTORE Act.

The plan says the missed deadlines are the result of “uncertainty related to the overall amount and availability of funds deposited” in the RESTORE Act trust fund, the failure of the U.S. Treasury to issue procedures for spending trust fund money, and the council’s intent to request public input on the plan.

The five Gulf Coast states also haven’t completed development of their own plans to spend their share of the money, the report said.

Still, the plan contains a list of goals for spending the money: restore and conserve habitat, restore water quality, replenish and protect living coastal and marine resources, enhance community resilience, and restore and revitalize the Gulf economy.
As a result of a settlement of Clean Water Act civil claims with Transocean, the owner and operator of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig that exploded and sank during the BP Macondo well blowout in 2010, the trust fund will receive $800 million during the next two years. It has already received $320 million of that.

Under the RESTORE Act, the council has oversight over 60 percent of that money. The council will select projects for funding using 30 percent of the money, and Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida will select projects using another 30 percent. Another 35 percent of the money is paid directly to the states, and the final 5 percent is divided between two sets of science and education programs.

A federal trial that will determine the remaining Clean Water Act fines to be paid by BP or its drilling partners is in recess until September.

The companies could be liable for $1,100 per barrel of oil spilled if their behavior causing the three-month-long spill is found to be negligent, or as much as $4,300 per barrel if its found to be grossly negligent.

Based on court rulings in the case so far, and early estimates of the amount of oil spilled, the fines could total between $4 billion and $17.5 billion, although the federal judge in the case could lower either of those sums for actions taken by the parties to limit the spill’s effects.

The council also will coordinate its projects with those funded in other ways with money emanating from the oil spill. Under the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, a Natural Resource Damage Assessment process is expected to identify several billion dollars of projects designed to restore the coast and to compensate the public for lost natural resources.

Under Transocean and BP criminal plea agreements with the federal government, the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation will receive more than $2.5 billion in the next five years, with half going to projects to rebuild barrier islands and begin construction of sediment and freshwater diversions in Louisiana.

The National Academy of Sciences also received $500 million under those settlements for human health and environmental protection, including Gulf oil spill protection and response. And the North American Wetlands Conservation Fund was given $100 million from the BP criminal plea agreement for wetlands restoration and conservation, and projects benefiting migratory birds.
While the vast majority of projects governed by the comprehensive plan will be aimed at natural resources, council-selected projects may also include spending land on long-term land use planning, acquisition or preservation of undeveloped lands in coastal high-hazard areas, such as for use as buffers against storm surge and sea level rise; and for non-structural storm and surge protection. While the council has not defined “non-structural,” it generally refers to raising buildings above flood levels or buying structures in flood zones.

The states also are allowed to direct as much as 25 percent of their money to infrastructure projects, according to the draft plan, with those projects benefiting the economy or ecosystem resources, including port infrastructure.
State money also can be used for coastal flood protection and related infrastructure, including levees, promotion of Gulf seafood and tourism, including recreational fishing, and improvements to state parks located in coastal areas affected by the spill.

Garret Graves, chairman of the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority and Gov. Bobby Jindal’s representative on the council, said he expects Louisiana to request that some of the RESTORE Act money be used to pay the costs of building the Morganza to the Gulf hurricane levee in the Houma area. Some of the money may also be used for hurricane risk-reduction projects that had been part of the Donaldsonville to the Gulf project recently rejected by the Army Corps of Engineers.

The state’s use of money for ports could be in the form of dredging, with the dredged material used to build wetlands, Graves said. The state has unsuccessfully requested congressional funding to deepen the Mississippi River channel to 50 feet at its mouth to accommodate larger ships using the expanded and deepened Panama Canal.

But Graves said the CPRA will focus its expenditures on projects recommended by the Coastal Master Plan, which was approved by the state Legislature in 2012. Beyond some money for levees and wetland-related dredging, the state is not interested in using RESTORE Act money for infrastructure projects, he said.

“We are talking about the impacts of the nation’s worst oil spill, the future of millions of Louisianans, our economy, our fishermen and our coast — politics has no place here,” Graves said in an email messsage. “To deviate at this point would be irresponsible,” he said. “These other types of projects may be aesthetically pleasing, but they don’t function well under 15 feet of hurricane storm surge.”

The list of authorized but not built projects includes 73 in Louisiana, with 41 listed as Army Corps of Engineers projects and six as state projects. Most are projects awaiting funding under existing federal-state financed coastal restoration programs.
The council will hold public engagement sessions in each of the five Gulf states in June. with the exact locations still to be determined:

June 3, Pensacola, Fla.
June 5, Spanish Fort, Ala.
June 10, Galveston, Texas
June 11, Biloxi, Miss.
June 12, Belle Chasse
June 17, St. Petersburg, Fla.

A 30-day public comment period on the draft plan ends on June 24. Comments can be submitted on the web at a National Park Service web site. More information about the plan, and the location of the meetings, as it becomes available, will be found at www.restorethegulf.gov .
© NOLA.com.

Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council releases Draft Initial Comprehensive Plan: Restoring the Gulf Coast’s Ecosystem and Economy

05/23/2013 04:06 PM EDT

The Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council marked significant progress today with the public release of the Draft Initial Comprehensive Plan: Restoring the Gulf Coast’s Ecosystem and Economy (PDF 621kb) and accompanying Draft Environmental Assessment (PDF 1.1 MB) for formal public comment. The Draft Plan provides a framework to implement a coordinated region-wide restoration effort in a way that restores, protects, and revitalizes the Gulf Coast region following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
The Draft Plan establishes overarching restoration goals for the Gulf Coast region; provides details about how the Council will solicit, evaluate, and fund projects and programs for ecosystem restoration in the Gulf Coast region; outlines the process for the development, review, and approval of State Expenditure Plans; and highlights the Council’s next steps. The Council expects to release a Final Plan this summer.

Along with the release of the Draft Plan, Acting Secretary of Commerce Rebecca Blank and Council Chair announced today that Justin Ehrenwerth will serve as the Executive Director of the Council. These steps signify the Council’s efforts to ensure that it is ready to move efficiently and effectively to implement a restoration plan once funds are received.

“As Chair of the Council, I am proud to announce that my Chief of Staff, Justin Ehrenwerth, will move into the role of Executive Director of the Council. I can think of no better person to help the Council continue to move forward with implementing a plan that ensures the long-term health, prosperity, and resilience of the Gulf Coast,” said Council Chair Blank.

In order to ensure robust public input throughout the entire process, the Council is hosting a series of public engagement sessions in each of the five impacted Gulf States in June to give the public the opportunity to provide input on the Draft Plan and the Council’s restoration planning efforts. The 30-day formal public comment period for the Draft Plan and associated documents begins today, May 23, and ends June 24. Public meetings to discuss the Draft Plan are scheduled for the following dates and locations:

June 3, 2013: Pensacola, Florida
June 5, 2013: Spanish Fort, Alabama
June 10, 2013: Galveston, Texas
June 11, 2013: Biloxi, Mississippi
June 12, 2013: Belle Chasse, Louisiana
June 17, 2013: St. Petersburg, Florida

To view or provide comments on the Plan and associated documents and to get additional details on the upcoming public meetings as they become available, please visit www.restorethegulf.gov.

Comments can be submitted here: http://parkplanning.nps.gov/commentFormBasic.cfm?documentID=53621

Background on the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council
The Council, which was established by the Resources and Ecosystem Sustainability, Tourism, Opportunities Revived Economies of the Gulf Coast States Act of 2012 (RESTORE Act), will help restore the ecosystem and economy of the Gulf Coast region by developing and overseeing implementation of a Comprehensive Plan and carrying out other responsibilities. The Deepwater Horizon oil spill caused extensive damage to the Gulf Coast’s natural resources, devastating the economies and communities that rely on it. In an effort to help the region rebuild in the wake of the spill, Congress passed the bipartisan RESTORE Act. The Act dedicates 80 percent of any civil and administrative penalties paid under the Clean Water Act by responsible parties in connection with the Deepwater Horizon oil spill to the Gulf Coast Restoration Trust Fund (the Trust Fund) for ecosystem restoration, economic recovery, and tourism promotion in the Gulf Coast region.

Attachments
Draft Initial Plan (PDF 621kb)
Draft Programmatic Environmental Assessment (PDF 1.1MB)
Appendix A – Background Information – Preliminary List of Authorized but Not Commenced Projects and Programs (PDF 258kb)

Special thanks to Richard Charter

Center for Biologic Diversity, Surfrider, Pacific Environment: Settlement Protects Sea Turtles, Whales, Other Rare Wildlife From Oil-spill Dispersants

SOURCE URL: http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/news/press_releases/2013/dispersants-05-30-2013.html

For Immediate Release, May 30, 2013
Contacts:
Deirdre McDonnell, Center for Biological Diversity, (971) 717-6404 ordmcdonnell@biologicaldiversity.org
Angela Howe, Surfrider Foundation, (949) 492-8170
Kevin Harun, Pacific Environment, (907) 440-2443

SAN FRANCISCO- A court settlement filed today requires the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Coast Guard to ensure that toxic oil-dispersing chemicals used in federal waters off California will not harm sea turtles, whales and other endangered species or their habitats. Conservation groups sued to force the government to determine the dispersants’ safety for endangered species prior to their use – not afterward, as occurred during 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

“We shouldn’t add insult to injury after an oil spill by using dispersants that put wildlife and people at risk. During the BP oil spill, no one knew what the long-term effects of chemical dispersants would be, and we’re still learning about their harm to fish and corals,” said Deirdre McDonnell of the Center for Biological Diversity, which brought suit with Surfrider Foundation and Pacific Environment. “People can avoid the ocean after an oil spill, but marine animals can’t. They’re forced to eat, breathe, and swim in the chemicals we put in the water, whether it’s oil or dispersants.”

Dispersants are chemicals used to break oil spills into tiny droplets. In theory, this allows the oil to be eaten by microorganisms and become diluted faster than if left untreated. However, dispersants and dispersed oil can also allow toxins to accumulate in the marine food web. People exposed to the oil and dispersants in the Gulf of Mexico disaster have also reported suffering lasting and damaging effects.

Today’s settlement, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, requires the federal government to analyze the effects of approving the California Dispersants Plan – which authorizes the use of dispersants in the event of a spill – to determine whether these toxins would harm endangered wildlife and make sure any harm is minimized. The Endangered Species Act requires the EPA and Coast Guard to consult with the National Marine Fisheries Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service regarding any activities that might affect endangered wildlife.

“The Pacific Ocean encompasses some of the most unique marine ecosystems in the world, providing habitat for many endangered and threatened species,” said Kevin Harun, Arctic Program Director for Pacific Environment. “The government needs to take the precautionary approach in order to prevent future harm to the health of the environment and people.”

“These chemical dispersants are dangerous to human health in addition to wildlife, and shouldn’t be allowed to threaten a family’s enjoyment of the beach. Surfrider Foundation members in Florida are so concerned about the aftereffects of the BP spill, they have taken it upon themselves to test the Gulf sand and coastal waters, and have found likely traces of Corexit attached to undissolved tar product in the coastal zone,” said Surfrider Foundation’s Legal Director Angela Howe.

Studies have found that oil broken apart by the dispersant Corexit 9527 damages the insulating properties of seabird feathers more than untreated oil, making the birds more susceptible to hypothermia and death. Studies have also found that dispersed oil is toxic to fish eggs, larvae and adults, as well as to corals, and can harm sea turtles’ ability to breathe and digest food.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 500,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

The Surfrider Foundation is a non-profit grassroots organization dedicated to the protection and enjoyment of our world’s oceans, waves and beaches through a powerful activist network. Founded in 1984 by a handful of visionary surfers in Malibu, California, the Surfrider Foundation now maintains over 250,000 supporters, activists and members worldwide. For more information on the Surfrider Foundation, visit http://www.surfrider.org/.

Pacific Environment is a non-profit organization based in San Francisco that protects the living environment of the Pacific Rim by promoting grassroots activism, strengthening communities and reforming international policies. For nearly two decades, we have partnered with local communities around the Pacific Rim to protect and preserve the ecological treasures of this vital region. Visit www.pacificenvironment.org to learn more about our work.

Special thanks to Richard Charter

Hudson Valley Press Online: Environment still feeling impact of BP oil spill

http://www.hvpress.net/news/172/ARTICLE/12458/2013-05-29.html

May 29th, 2013

Dear EarthTalk: The three-year anniversary of the 2010 BP oil spill just passed. What do green groups think of the progress since in restoring the region?
– Mary Johannson, NY

When an undersea oil well blew out 50 miles off the Louisiana coast on April 20, 2010 and caused an explosion on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig above it (killing 11 workers), no one knew that an even bigger disaster was yet to come. Over the next three months, 4.9 million gallons of crude poured into the water before BP could get the wellhead capped to stop the flow of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

According to BP, which has already spent $14 billion on clean-up and restoration, the Gulf is returning to baseline conditions prior to the disaster. “No company has done more, faster to respond to an industrial accident than BP did in response to the Deepwater Horizon accident in 2010,” reports the company.

But not everybody sees the situation that way. Many environmentalists are concerned that, while BP has done a thorough job removing visible oil from the water column and surface, little has been done to repair damage to marine life and ecosystems.

“Three years after the initial explosion, the impacts of the disaster continue to unfold,” says Doug Inkley, senior scientist at the National Wildlife Federation (NWF). A recent report by the group found that the three-year-old spill is still having a serious negative effect on wildlife populations in the Gulf.

For one, dolphin deaths in the region have remained above average every single month since the disaster. In the first two months of 2013, infant dolphins were found dead at six times pre-spill average rates. Says Inkley: “These ongoing deaths-particularly in an apex predator like the dolphin-are a strong indication that there is something amiss with the Gulf ecosystem.”

Gulf dolphins aren’t the only ones suffering. NWF found that more than 1,700 sea turtles were stranded in coastal areas of the Gulf between May 2010 and November 2012-almost three times the pre-spill rate for the animals. Researchers have also detected changes in the cellular function of Gulf killifish, a common bait fish at the base of the food chain. And a coral colony seven miles from the offending wellhead struggles due to oil and dispersants compromising its ability to rebuild itself.

“The oil disaster highlighted the gaps in our understanding of the Gulf of Mexico,” says Florida State University oceanographer Ian MacDonald. “What frustrates me is how little has changed over the past three years. In many cases, funding for critical research has even been even been cut, limiting our understanding of the disaster’s impacts.”

MacDonald and others are optimistic that a federal court will find BP accountable for further damages in a civil trial now underway. NWF says that substantially more money is needed to carry out restoration efforts vital to the biological and economic stability of the Gulf region. “Despite the public relations blitz by BP, this spill is not over,” says NWF’s David Muth. “Justice will only be served when BP and its co-defendants pay to restore the wildlife and habitats of the Mississippi River Delta and the Gulf of Mexico.”

Special thanks to Richard Charter

E&E: House Dems decry continuing violations in Gulf of Mexico

Laura Petersen, E&E reporter
Published: Friday, May 10, 2013

Oil companies continue to rack up safety violations in the Gulf of Mexico three years after the Deepwater Horizon disaster, House Natural Resources Committee Democrats said in a report released today.

Companies with the most “major environmental and safety” violations before the 2010 spill continue to have some of the worst records, the report says.

Ranking member Ed Markey (D-Mass.) urged Congress to toughen monitoring and impose heavier penalties to deter risky practices.

“We need to make sure these companies change their ways and pay a price for their risky practices,” Markey said in a statement.

The report, “Dangerous Drillers: Offshore Safety Lapses Continue Three Years After BP Spill,” is based on Interior Department data comparing accidents, inspections, safety violations and civil penalties before and after the 2010 disaster.

Markey also released letters he sent to BP PLC and U.S. EPA, faulting the oil company for failing to provide information requested by Congress after the 2010 Gulf spill.

Markey advised EPA to not lift BP’s debarment from federal contracts until the company provides the requested information.

“First, BP lied to Congress when I asked for information about the amount of oil being spilled into the Gulf,” Markey wrote. “Now, BP won’t provide me information about why company officials lied. Until it comes clean and cleans up its act, the government should not be in business with BP.”

Special thanks to Richard Charter

The Lens–LSU study: Damaged minnow shows BP oil seeping into coastal food chain & Huffington Post: Corexit, Oil Dispersant Used By BP, Is Destroying Gulf Marine Life, Scientists Say

http://thelensnola.org/2013/04/30/lsu-study-damaged-minnow-population-shows-bp-oil-seeping-into-coastal-food-chain/

The Lens–LSU study: Damaged minnow shows BP oil seeping into coastal food chain
By Bob Marshall, Staff writer April 30, 2013 11:45am

A minnow considered the canary in Louisiana’s coastal ecosystem can’t shake the hydrocarbon cough it picked up when BPs oil started washing ashore three years ago.

Recent studies on new generations of the Gulf killifish, a marsh minnow diagnosed with signs of oil poisoning in 2010, shortly after the Macondo blowout began, confirm that hydrocarbon toxins remain in marsh sediments and continue to cause biological impairments that were precursors for species-wide collapses in Alaska after the Exxon Valdez spill.

The results have no implication for seafood safety because the levels of toxins detected are well below those considered hazardous for seafood consumption, the researchers said.

While the killifish is best known locally as the “cocahoe minnow,” a bait fish favored by anglers, researchers consider it the equivalent of the proverbial canary in a coal mine, a keystone species in the food chain that can give early warnings of problems for the entire system.

Andrew Whitehead, who in 2010 led an LSU team studying adult killifish from heavily oiled areas of Barataria Bay, said at the time, “We were detecting cellular responses to toxins that are predictive of impairment of reproduction and embryo development.”

Now, follow-up lab research on killifish embryo have confirmed those fears.

“They had the same hallmark signature impacts of cardiovascular toxicity as the adults. There was an accumulation of fluid around the heart, depressed heart rates and decreased hatching success.” – Andrew Whitehead
The research team exposed one group of embryo to sediments collected from heavily oiled areas of the bay and another group to sediments from areas that were not impacted.

“We know that early life stages, especially in fish, are very sensitive to the effects of oil, and we know that many animals (in the Gulf ) use these estuaries for the early stages of life and will be exposed to these sediments,” Whitehead said. “So we wanted to bring the research into the lab with a control group to see what the results would be, especially more than a year later.”

The embryos exposed to uncontaminated sediments showed no abnormalities, but those exposed to the oil-impacted sediments displayed many of the same developmental impairments detected in the adult fish during the first project, researchers found.

“They had the same hallmark signature impacts of cardiovascular toxicity as the adults,” Whitehead said. “There was an accumulation of fluid around the heart, depressed heart rates and decreased hatching success.”

The researchers were looking for signs that the embryos were impacted by polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), components of oil that are known carcinogens and that can persist for more than 50 years in ecosystems hit by oil spills. As in the first study, the levels recorded in this project were either trace or “undetectable” – the term used when a toxin does not register in water samples but animals exhibit biological responses that are symptomatic of exposure.

The responses shown by killifish embryos to such low levels of PAHs reinforced concern that trouble could be waiting down the line for economically more valuable species.

Whitehead, now at the University of California at Davis, said the concern wasn’t about the toxins accumulating in predators such as speckled trout and redfish that consume killifish, but that long-lasting PAHs could have biological impacts that may show up in future generations of a whole range of creatures that live close to and on the marsh bottom, such as shrimp, crabs and oysters.

“A lot of the (PAHs) have sunk into sediments in the marshes in Barataria Bay and get redistributed into the water column every time it gets windy,” he said. “So all animals that use shallow water in these estuaries will be exposed.”

A cause for hope, he said, is that only a handful of places across the vast Louisiana coast were heavily hit by the oil. That could mean large populations of killifish and other species were unaffected.

“So the hope would be animals that inhabit areas that were not heavily hit will be able to provide unaffected populations that can buffer the harm done in the affected area,” Whitehead said.
“Of course, we don’t know that, and that’s why we need to continue to monitor this.”

Whitehead repeated a concern voiced in 2010 that enough research should be done on the biology of the species being examined rather than just their safety for human consumption.

“As these studies show, you can have levels of these toxins that are no threat to humans, but can cause serious problems for a whole range of animals living in the ecosystem with just a very small level of contamination,” Whitehead said. “I haven’t seen a whole lot of research published on the biology of animals post-spill. That concerns me.”

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ABOUT BOB MARSHALL
More from this author
Bob Marshall covers environmental issues for The Lens, with a special focus on coastal restoration and wetlands. While at The Times-Picayune, his work chronicling the people, stories and issues of Louisiana’s wetlands was recognized with two Pulitzer Prizes and other awards. In 2012 Marshall was a member of the inaugural class inducted into the Loyola University School of Communications Den of Distinction. He can be reached at (504) 232-5013.

____________________________

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/25/corexit-bp-oil-dispersant_n_3157080.html?utm_hp_ref=green

Huffington Post: Corexit, Oil Dispersant Used By BP, Is Destroying Gulf Marine Life, Scientists Say
Posted: 04/25/2013 5:02 pm EDT | Updated: 04/25/2013 5:20 pm EDT

From TakePart’s David Kirby:
Three years ago, when BP’s Deepwater Horizon began leaking some 210 million gallons of Louisiana Crude into the Gulf of Mexico, the U.S. government allowed the company to apply chemical “dispersants” to the blossoming oil slick to prevent toxic gunk from reaching the fragile bays, beaches, and mangroves of the coast, where so much marine life originates. But a number of recent studies show that BP and the feds may have made a huge mistake, for which everything from microscopic organisms to bottlenose dolphins are now paying the highest price.

After the spill, BP secured about a third of the world’s supply of dispersants, namely Corexit 9500 and 9527, according to The New York Times. Of the two, 9527 is more toxic. Corexit dispersants emulsify oil into tiny beads, causing them to sink toward the bottom. Wave action and wind turbulence degrade the oil further, and evaporation concentrates the toxins in the oil-Corexit mixture, including dangerous compounds called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), known to cause cancer and developmental disorders.

When BP began spraying the Gulf, critics cried foul. They said Corexit is not only toxic to marine life on its own, but when combined with crude oil, the mixture becomes several times more toxic than oil or dispersant alone.

Not surprisingly, BP Chief Executive Bob Dudley defended use of the dispersant. “The toxicity of Corexit is about the same as dish soap, which is effectively what it is and how it works,” he told stockholders. “In hindsight no one believes that that was the wrong thing and it would have been much worse without the use of it. I do not believe anybody-anybody with almost common sense-would say waves of black oil washing into the marshes and beaches would have been a better thing, under any circumstances.”

BP says that Corexit is harmless to marine life, while the Environmental Protection Agency has waffled, saying both that “long term effects [of dispersants] on aquatic life are unknown” and that data “do not indicate any significant effects on aquatic life. Moreover, decreased size of the oil droplets is a good indication that, so far, the dispersant is effective.”

But many scientists, such as Dr. William Sawyer, a Louisiana toxicologist, argue that Corexit can be deadly to people and sea creatures alike. “Corexit components are also known as deodorized kerosene,” Sawyer said in a written statement for the Gulf Oil Disaster Recovery Group, a legal consortium representing environmental groups and individuals affected by the Deepwater Horizon spill. “With respect to marine toxicity and potential human health risks, studies of kerosene exposures strongly indicate potential health risks to volunteers, workers, sea turtles, dolphins, breathing reptiles and all species which need to surface for air exchanges, as well as birds and all other mammals.” When Corexit mixes with and breaks down crude, it makes the oil far more “bioavailable” to plants and animals, critics allege, because it is more easily absorbed in its emulsified state.

Sawyer tested edible fish and shellfish from the Gulf for absorption of petroleum hydrocarbon (PHC), believed to have been facilitated by Corexit. Tissue samples taken prior to the accident had no measurable PHC. But after the oil spill, Sawyer found tissue concentrations up to 10,000 parts per million, or 1 percent of the total. The study, he said, “shows that the absorption [of the oil] was enhanced by the Corexit.”

In April 2012, Louisiana State University’s Department of Oceanography and Coastal Sciences was finding lesions and grotesque deformities in sea life-including millions of shrimp with no eyes and crabs without eyes or claws-possibly linked to oil and dispersants.

The shocking story was ignored by major U.S. media, but covered in depth by Al Jazeera. BP said such deformities were “common” in aquatic life in the Gulf and caused by bacteria or parasites. But further studies point back to the spill.

A just-released study from the University of South Florida found that underwater plumes of BP oil, dispersed by Corexit, had produced a “massive die-off” of foraminifera, microscopic organisms at the base of the food chain. Other studies show that, as a result of oil and dispersants, plankton have either been killed or have absorbed PAHs before being consumed by other sea creatures.

Hydrocarbon-laden, mutated seafood is not the only legacy left behind by Corexit, many scientists, physicians, environmentalists, fishermen, and Gulf Coast residents contend. Earlier this week, TakePart wrote about Steve Kolian, a researcher and founder of the nonprofit group EcoRigs, whose volunteer scientists and divers seek to preserve offshore oil and gas platforms after production stops, for use as artificial reefs and for alternative energy production.

EcoRigs divers took water and marine life samples at several locations in the months following the blowout. Now, they and countless other Gulf residents are sick, with symptoms resembling something from a sci-fi horror film, including bleeding from the nose, ears, breasts, and even anus. Others complain of cognitive damage, including what one man calls getting “stuck stupid,” when he temporarily cannot move or speak, but can still hear.

“If we are getting sick, then you know the marine life out in the Gulf is too,” Kolian said. The diver and researcher completed an affidavit on human and marine health used in GAP’s report.

Kolian’s team has done studies of their own to alarming results. “We recently submitted a paper showing levels of hydrocarbons in seafood were up to 3,000 times higher than safety thresholds for human consumption,” he said. “Concentrations in biota [i.e. all marine life] samples were even greater.”

Kolian’s friend and colleague, Scott Porter, described in his affidavit to GAP how Corexit had caused dispersed crude to coat the bottom of the sea in a sickening, deadly film. In July 2011, he and other divers traveled to a part of the Florida Panhandle, known as the Emerald Coast for its pristine seawater, to collect samples for the Surfrider Foundation.

“When we went diving, however, the water had a brownish white haze that resembled what we saw in offshore Louisiana at 30 feet below sea level,” Porter’s affidavit stated. “I have never witnessed anything like that since I began diving in the Emerald Coast 20 years ago. We witnessedŠa reddish brown substance on the seafloor that resembled tar and spanned a much larger area than is typical of natural runoff.”

In areas covered with the substance, “we noticed much less sea life,” Porter continued. “There were hardly any sand dollars or crabs and only some fish, whereas we would normally see an abundance of organisms. It was desolate.”

Special thanks to Richard Charter

WWLTV Eyewitness News: Practice of workers covering-up Gulf oil spills widespread, whistleblower says

http://www.wwltv.com/news/eyewitness/davidhammer/Blatant-cover-ups-of-oil-spills-widespread-by-workers-205331441.html

wwltv.com
Posted on April 29, 2013 at 10:34 PM
Updated today at 9:56 AM

David Hammer / Eyewitness News
Email: dhammer@wwltv.com | Twitter: @davidhammerWWL

NEW ORLEANS – It was something of an eye-opener when an oil company pleaded guilty to two environmental crimes in January.

Not because the pollution reported was anything on the scale of the BP spill, but because of the brazen cover-up involved.

The company, Houston-based W&T Offshore, admitted its workers had used coffee filters in October 2009 to clean oil and other minerals out of the water byproduct discharged overboard from their platform in the Ewing Banks 910 lease block, about 65 miles south of Port Fourchon.

They were filtering the oil out of the water samples that were sent into a lab and recorded with the federal government.

Meanwhile, the water they were dumping back into the Gulf on a constant basis stayed contaminated.

W&T also pleaded guilty to spilling oil into the Gulf of Mexico in November 2009 and not reporting it to authorities, as required by law. The company agreed to pay $1 million in fines and community service for their crimes.

The case was closed. But that may have been only part of the story. Eyewitness News found the original complaint that alerted the federal authorities, and the allegations in it go beyond what’s contained in W&T’s plea agreement. In fact, according to the man who blew the whistle and others, the problem of cover-ups and out-and-out dumping is widespread and will continue to go essentially unchecked because too few offshore workers are willing to report violations.

“When you’re in the offshore industry if you want to get along, you better go along,” said Randy Comeaux of Lafayette, who was a contract employee assigned to W&T platforms in 2009. “And what happens offshore stays offshore. You break any one of those two rules, in one fashion or another, you will not be working offshore.”

Comeaux says he’s one of the few who doesn’t simply “go along,” and he’s paid the price. He said he’s been fired multiple times for reporting violations and can’t get a job offshore because of it.

That’s why environmentalists and members of Congress say federal whistleblower protections have to be strengthened to protect the people who are trying to protect the public from more pollution.

“Why not just sweep it overboard? Nobody’s ever gonna see it. I mean, most people are never out here,” said Cynthia Sarthou, executive director of the Gulf Restoration Network, one of several environmental groups that began flying offshore to monitor rigs and platforms after the 2010 BP spill. “Until the monitoring consortium really started looking, we had no clue how much oil and how many oil slicks we were going to find — how much oil we actually find every month.”

Comeaux said he first learned how to doctor water samples to trick the feds back in 1980. He admitted he filtered some of the samples himself before realizing how his actions were helping to pollute the Gulf of Mexico.

We also tracked down one of the workers Comeaux caught doctoring the water samples on W&T’s Ewing Banks 910 platform – Jason Bourgeois of Centreville, Miss. Bourgeois blamed his supervisors for teaching him the practice and encouraging it over the last nine years. He also said this kind of thing has been going on at W&T platforms for decades – and sometimes, the doctoring is even more blatant than a coffee filter.

“You get about a couple inches in the jug of your overboard water and the rest is basically Kentwood,” Bourgeois said. “You fill the rest of the jug with Kentwood water. Then it’s sent into a laboratory.”

When we asked why someone would use bottled water when they were already filtering the actual water that came out of the production equipment, Bourgeois said it would take hours to filter an entire water sample. He said a W&T foreman once told him that he sent the laboratory a sample that was all Kentwood, and it passed.

Long-standing practice
Bourgeois’ grandfather, M.J. Smith, said his late son, Mike Smith, worked for W&T more than 10 years ago and also doctored processed water samples. Smith said his son, who was Bourgeois’ uncle, would take water from his well during his time off and gather it to use during his next hitch offshore, to create cleaner samples.

W&T said in a statement that the “doctoring of water samples in 2009 is an isolated incident, something the contract workers on EW910 did on their own, violating W&T Offshore procedures and without the knowledge of their supervisors.”
But Bourgeois said he and others at W&T were pressured to clean the samples by their supervisors.

“We knew it wasn’t right,” he said. “But it was the fact of, do it this way or we’ll get somebody else that will.”

Specifically, Bourgeois blames his field foreman, Mike Lofton – who, incidentally, was also Bourgeois’ uncle’s boss at W&T. Lofton was stationed on a W&T headquarters platform about halfway back to shore from the Ewing Banks platform Bourgeois worked on. Bourgeois and Comeaux said Lofton knew about and condoned the water filtering.

Comeaux also said he reported at least three spills to Lofton in 2009 that went unreported to the authorities. Bourgeois said a huge amount of oil – as much as 500 barrels from an overfilled storage tank – shot out a flare boom in one of the incidents, and because of high winds and the grating on the platform decks, most of it ended up in the Gulf.

But W&T says the amount of oil spilled was nothing like what Bourgeois describes. In an email Bourgois sent to Lofton about two months after the spill, he reports that no sheen was visible in the dark right after the incident, which happened at 2 a.m. The email also said no spill was visible four hours later, when the sun came up and the water became visible.

But Bourgeois says he was forced by the company to write that statement to contradict an earlier one he had given.

Lofton declined to respond when we called him at his home in Picayune, Miss., and asked to interview him about the incidents.

But W&T disputes Comeaux and Bourgeois’ portrayal of events and stands by Lofton.
“Mike Lofton is a valued W&T Offshore employee,” W&T said in a statement. “The company acknowledges that Lofton should have reported the spill from the flare boom in November 2009, but W&T Offshore disputes that it was anything as large as Bourgeois claims. And Lofton was never told that there was a sheen visible on the water.”

Other spills alleged
Comeaux wasn’t on Ewing Banks 910 during the November spill. He said he watched from the headquarters platform while Lofton sent workers in helicopters to clean the spill.

Comeaux was present for the two other spills he reported to Lofton – one in March 2009 on W&T’s connected Ship Shoal 300A and Ship Shoal 315 platforms, and one in October 2009 on Ewing Banks 910. Bourgeois saw the October incident and says W&T supervisors pressured the workers to use a screw to plug the high-pressure leak, something Bourgeois says was too dangerous for him to participate in. It also didn’t work, and the platform had to be shut in.

Comeaux said that before they shut down operations, the hole got bigger and oil started spewing into the Gulf. He said he told the lead operator on Ewing Banks 910, David Cahanin, to report an oil spill, but, Comeaux said, Cahanin refused. Cahanin did not respond to our request for comment.

W&T says none of the oil from those two incidents made it into the water and would not have required Lofton or anyone else to report them to the U.S. Coast Guard.

Blowing the whistle
The reason we know about any of these issues is that Comeaux filed a federal lawsuit against W&T on behalf of the United States. The Department of Justice made sure his complaint was filed under seal.

In 2012, the case was unsealed when the Justice Department declined to join Comeaux’s lawsuit. But then the prosecutors turned around and used the information they gathered and convicted W&T of crimes. The Justice Department, through the local U.S. Attorney’s Office, said Comeaux is free to continue to pursue his civil claims.

Comeaux says he lost his job because he exposed the violations, and the federal prosecutors did nothing to protect him.

He also said he deserves a share of the fines against W&T under a provision in federal law, but the Justice Department decided not to use that law to prosecute W&T. Comeaux said it’s a travesty that the U.S. government would leave him vulnerable like that. And others agree.

“They laid him out to dry just like they did me and the other two guys,” said Bourgeois, who says that he, Cahanin and Bryan Barfoot were promised protection by federal investigators if they told the truth, but are no longer working on W&T platforms because, he claims, they cooperated.

Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., tried to get Congress to update the offshore whistleblower protection law after the 2010 BP oil spill. The bill died in the Senate, and Republicans in the House tried to water down the original bill, Miller said.

“Now why shouldn’t they have the same protection as railroad workers have, as transport workers have, as nuclear workers have, as pipeline workers have?” Miller said in an impassioned speech from the House floor in 2010. “Because they all have a modern whistleblower statute. But those men and women who go out on those rigs today do not have any protection, more less a modern protection.”

And Sarthou said she isn’t surprised the feds didn’t go to bat for Comeaux.

“I don’t think the Justice Department sees itself as in the business of supporting whistleblowers,” she said. “I think they see themselves as in the business of hitting somebody who’s done something wrong but not spending the money to go to trial unless they absolutely have to.”

History of complaints
Comeaux is undoubtedly disgruntled. He writes a blog railing against W&T, oil companies in general and the federal government.

He says companies come up with excuses to fire employees who blow the whistle, usually stating that they don’t work well with their colleagues. And Bourgeois confirms that Comeaux was generally distrusted by his co-workers and perceived as a snitch.

He certainly has a history of filing complaints and may fancy himself as a compliance officer even though he was listed as an instrument and electrical technician. His whistleblowing crusade apparently continued as soon as he returned offshore in 2012 to work on the ATP Titan platform in Mississippi Canyon 941. Just a few months into the job, he reported to the Coast Guard that 1,200 barrels of methanol were “dumped” overboard in December.

He says he couldn’t talk more about the incident at this time, but claims he was immediately fired because he reported it.

His allegations against ATP are not unique. ATP filed for bankruptcy last year, shortly after being charged with federal crimes for using an unauthorized chemical to break down the oil in the water they were dumping overboard from the ATP Innovator, a huge floating platform in Mississippi Canyon 711. According to the federal criminal complaint, the canister of the cleanser was hidden from view and workers called it “soap” and “sheen buster.”

ATP did not respond to our requests for comment.

Righting wrongs
W&T, on the other hand, addressed all of our questions. It says it has taken steps since 2009 to improve their environmental compliance. Even Bourgeois says he saw real improvement in the reporting before he stopped working for W&T last year.

Some of those corrective actions were required as a part of the guilty plea, some were already under way. The company says it now requires its managers to report spills to the Coast Guard if there’s a chance that some spilled into the Gulf, rather than waiting for visual confirmation. It also said it’s been conducting surprise water sampling on its platforms and has found all in compliance except for one, where there had been an upset in the system just before the test.

But, Bourgeois points to photographs he took of a 2011 oil spill on the Ewing Banks 910 platform as evidence that the company hasn’t totally learned its lesson.

That spill was reported to the Coast Guard as a “capful” of oil discharged into the water, which Bourgeois says is ridiculous given the photographs. But the pictures of the oil-soaked equipment don’t necessarily prove that more than a capful of oil made it into the Gulf.

It’s hard to tell how widespread these issues are. Sarthou said that even if it’s just a handful of bad actors doctoring water samples and keeping spills quiet, if they’ve been doing it consistently for 30 years, the volume of pollution could be devastating. She said we can’t rely on the massive Gulf to dilute the effects of the oil if the discharges have been that numerous and constant.

Comeaux agrees. A child of Acadiana who spent his whole life on the water and eating Gulf seafood, he is now afraid to touch it.

Whether he is a malcontent or not and whether he’s justified in seeking whistleblower reward money or not, there is little doubt he is passionate about protecting the Gulf waters.
He begins to cry when describing how pervasive he believes the unreported pollution is.
“This type of activity occurs under the cover of the night through a process of corrupting the morals of the people who work out there,” he said. “It’s not acceptable behavior for our industry. It’s not acceptable behavior for our world.

“Eventually people are gonna suffer from this. You can’t keep polluting something and expect everything to be OK. Sooner or later somebody is gonna get sick from this. Sooner or later somebody’s gonna die from this. Sooner or later, the Gulf is gonna die from this.”

Special thanks to Richard Charter.

CNN: Empty nets in Louisiana three years after the spill By Matt Smith

http://www.cnn.com/2013/04/27/us/gulf-disaster-fishing-industry/index.html?hpt=hp_c1

By Matt Smith, CNN
updated 3:43 PM EDT, Mon April 29, 2013

JOHN NOWAK/CNN
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
April 20 marked three years since the Gulf oil disaster erupted
Since the 2010 spill, Louisiana’s statewide oyster catch has dropped by more than 25%
Other seafood catch numbers have rebounded and studies show the catch is safe
But in certain areas, there’s still a pronounced downturn in blue crab, shrimp, oysters

Yscloskey, Louisiana (CNN) — On his dock along the banks of Bayou Yscloskey, Darren Stander makes the pelicans dance.

More than a dozen of the birds have landed or hopped onto the dock, where Stander takes in crabs and oysters from the fishermen who work the bayou and Lake Borgne at its mouth. The pelicans rock back and forth, beaks rising and falling, as he waves a bait fish over their heads.

At least he’s got some company. There’s not much else going on at his dock these days. There used to be two or three people working with him; now he’s alone. The catch that’s coming in is light, particularly for crabs.

“Guys running five or six hundred traps are coming in with two to three boxes, if that,” said Stander, 26.

Out on the water, the chains clatter along the railing of George Barisich’s boat as he and his deckhand haul dredges full of oysters onto the deck. As they sort them, they’re looking for signs of “spat”: the young oysters that latch onto reefs and grow into marketable shellfish.

There’s the occasional spat here; there are also a few dead oysters, which make a hollow sound when tapped with the blunt end of a hatchet.

About two-thirds of U.S. oysters come from the Gulf Coast, the source of about 40% of America’s seafood catch. But in the three years since the drilling rig Deepwater Horizon blew up and sank about 80 miles south of here, fishermen say many of the oyster reefs are still barren, and some other commercial species are harder to find.

“My fellow fishermen who fish crab and who fish fish, they’re feeling the same thing,” Barisich said. “You get a spike in production every now and then, but overall, it’s off. Everybody’s down. Everywhere there was dispersed oil and heavily oiled, the production is down.”

The April 20, 2010, explosion sent 11 men to a watery grave off Louisiana and uncorked an undersea gusher nearly a mile beneath the surface that took three months to cap.

Most of the estimated 200 million gallons of oil that poured into the Gulf of Mexico is believed to have evaporated or been broken down by hydrocarbon-munching microbes, according to government estimates.

The rest washed ashore across 1,100 miles of coastline, from the Louisiana barrier islands west of the Mississippi River to the white sands of the Florida Panhandle. A still-unknown portion settled on the floor of the Gulf and the inlets along its coast.

Tar balls are still turning up on the beaches, and a 2012 hurricane blew seemingly fresh oil ashore in Louisiana.

Well owner BP, which is responsible for the cleanup, says it’s still monitoring 165 miles of shore. The company points to record tourism revenues across the region and strong post-spill seafood catches as evidence the Gulf is rebounding from the spill.

But in the fishing communities of southeastern Louisiana, people say that greasy tide is still eating away at their livelihoods.

“Things’s changing, and we don’t know what’s happening yet,” said oysterman Byron Encalade.

Life before the spill
Before the spill, Encalade and his neighbors in the overwhelmingly African-American community of Pointe a la Hache — about 25 miles south of Yscloskey — earned their living from the state-managed oyster grounds off the East Bank of the Mississippi.

Back then, a boat could head out at dawn and be back at the docks by noon with dozens of 105-pound sacks of oysters.

Now? “Nothing,” says Encalade, president of the Louisiana Oystermen Association.
Louisiana conservation officials have dumped fresh limestone, ground-up shell and crushed concrete on many of the reefs in a bid to foster new growth.

It takes three to five years for a viable reef to develop, so that means Pointe a la Hache could be looking at 2018 — eight years after the spill — before its lifeblood starts pumping again.

“This economy is totally gone in my community,” said Encalade, 59. “There is no economy. The two construction jobs that are going on — the prison and the school — if it weren’t for those, the grocery store would be closing.”

When the catch comes in, everyone wants you to know that it’s safe to eat. Repeated testing has shown that the traces of hydrocarbons that do come up in the shrimp, crab and oysters are far below safety limits for human consumption.

“The monitoring of the seafood supply has been exemplary,” said Steve Murawski, a fisheries biologist at the University of South Florida. “There’s no incidence of people getting sick and no report of any tainted fish reaching the market.”

While much of the Gulf’s seafood industry has rebounded, the hardest-hit communities like Pointe a la Hache, Yscloskey and the inlets in Barataria Bay, west of the Mississippi, have not recovered.

Scientists are still trying to understand what the oil has done to the marshlands of southeastern Louisiana.

Sure, the catch is safe — but that doesn’t mean much when seafood prices are down and fuel costs are up.

“Since the spill, my shrimp production is off between 40 and 60% for the two years that I did work full time,” said Barisich, who has both a shrimp boat and an oyster boat tied up at Yscloskey. “But my price is off another 50%, and my fuel is high: 60 cents a gallon higher than it’s ever been.”

Figures from Louisiana’s Department of Wildlife and Fisheries tell a similar story.

The statewide oyster catch since 2010 is down 27% from the average haul between 2002 and 2009, according to catch statistics from the agency. In the Pontchartrain Basin, where Encalade and Barisich both work, the post-spill average fell to about a third of the pre-spill catch.

Barisich says oysters are barely worth the effort anymore.
Guys running five or six hundred traps are coming in with two to three boxes, if that.
Darren Stander

“On the state ground — on a perfect weather day, keep that in mind — it’s 20 sacks a day,” he said. “Twenty sacks a day at $30 a sack is $600. $300 worth of fuel. $100 worth of other expenses and I pay the deckhand, I got $150 a day on a perfect day. It don’t pay to go out.”
And no boats going out means no fuel being sold at Frank Campo Jr.’s marina, down the bayou from Barisich’s dock.

“If you don’t burn it, I can’t sell it to you,” Campo says. “They’re not doing very well with the crabs, and there’s not a lot of oyster boats going out.”

Demand for the oysters is off, too.

“You used to never ask the dealer if he wanted oysters,” said Campo, whose grandfather started the marina. “You just showed up with them. Now, he’ll call you and tell you if he needs ’em.”

‘Like somebody had poured motor oil all over’
Across the Mississippi from Pointe a la Hache, beyond the West Bank levees, lie some of the waterways that saw the heaviest oiling: Barataria Bay and its smaller inlets, Bay Jimmy and Bay Batiste.

Interactive map of Gulf oil disaster

Louisiana State University entomologist Linda Hooper-Bui tracks the numbers of ants, wasps, spiders and other bugs at 40 sites in the surrounding marshes, 18 of which had seen some degree of oiling.

She is part of a small army of researchers who have been trying to figure out what effect the spill will have on the environment of the Gulf Coast. Since 2010, she’s recorded a sharp decline in several species of insects — particularly spiders, ants, wasps and grasshoppers, which sit roughly in the middle of the food web.

They’re top predators among insects but food for birds and fish.

Hooper-Bui said she expected their numbers to bounce back the following year: “Instead, what we saw was worse.”

Tar balls found washed up on Elmer’s Island, Louisiana, in early March.
JOHN NOWAK/CNN

The reason, she suspects, is that the oil that sank into the bottom of the marsh after the spill hasn’t broken down at the same rate as the crude that floated to the surface.
Instead, it’s in the sediments, still giving off fumes that are killing the insects.

Some napthalenes — crude oil components most commonly known for their use in mothballs — appear to have increased since the spill, she said.

“They’re volatile, and they’re toxic,” Hooper-Bui said. “And they’re not just toxic to insects. They’re toxic to fish. They’re toxic to birds. They cause eggshell thinning in birds. We think this is evidence of an emerging problem.”

Hooper-Bui said crickets exposed to the contaminated muck in laboratories die, and when temperatures were increased to those comparable to a summer day, “the crickets die faster.”

By August 2011, the number of grasshoppers had fallen by 70% to 80% in areas that got oiled.

“By 2012, we were unable to find any colonies of ants in the oiled areas,” she said.
Then on August 29, 2012, Hurricane Isaac hit southeastern Louisiana. The slow-moving storm sat over Barataria Bay for more than 60 hours as it crawled onto land.

When Hooper-Bui went back to the marshes after the storm, she had a surprise waiting for her.

“We discovered in Bay Batiste large amounts of what looked like somebody had poured motor oil all over the marsh there,” she said. “About three-quarters of the perimeter of northern Bay Batiste was covered in this oil.”

The chemical fingerprint of the oil matched the oil from the ruptured BP well, Hooper-Bui said. Other scientists confirmed that Isaac kicked up tar balls from the spill as far east as the Alabama-Florida state line, more than 100 miles from where the storm made its initial landfall.

Far from the shoreline, patches of oil fell to the bottom of the Gulf in a mix of sediment, dead plankton and hydrocarbons dubbed “marine snow.” It fouled corals near the wellhead, and it’s still sitting there.

There’s something about this stuff, the carbon in these layers, that’s not degrading.
Samantha Joye, oceanographer

“If you took a picture of a core (sample) that was collected today and took a picture of a core that was taken in September 2010, they look the same,” University of Georgia oceanographer Samantha Joye said.

“What’s really strange to me is, the material is not degrading,” Joye added. “There’s something about this stuff, the carbon in these layers, that’s not degrading.”

Normally, microbes go to work on free-floating hydrocarbons almost immediately, digesting the compounds. The controversial large-scale use of chemical dispersants was supposed to accelerate that process by breaking up the oil into smaller droplets that could be more easily consumed.

But that’s not happening to this layer, Joye said, and the reason is unclear.
“The first thing everyone asks is, ‘Do you think it’s dispersants?’ And I can honestly tell you, we don’t know,” she said.

During the spill, scientists warned that fish eggs and larvae, shrimp, coral and oysters were potentially most at risk from the use of dispersants. The Environmental Protection Agency later reported that testing found the combination of oil and dispersants to be no more toxic than the oil alone.

But that’s no comfort to Encalade, who could watch planes spray dispersant on the slick from the marina where he keeps his two boats.

“We know from history, whenever you put soap in the water around camps and stuff like that, oysters don’t reproduce,” he said. “And we’ve heard BP say over and over again, ‘Oh, it’s like detergent.’ That’s the worst thing in the world you can do to an oyster.”

The impact of these dispersants on marine life is still an open question, and it’s something that’s under review by scientists involved in the Natural Resource Damage Assessment, the federally run, BP-funded effort to figure out what the spill did to the Gulf Coast.
That assessment could take several years.

As scientists sort out the data, the Gulf fishing communities from Louisiana to Florida are still dealing with the impact of the spill. When you look at the entire expanse of the ocean, there isn’t a huge amount of oil, explained Ian MacDonald, an oceanographer at Florida State University.

“You have to look hard to find any oil at all,” he said.

But where the oil has been found, MacDonald said, the damage is “intense and widespread.”

There is some good news: Some studies indicate that commercial fish species in different parts of the Gulf escaped the worst. Recent research at Alabama’s Dauphin Island Sea Lab found that young shrimp and blue crabs off Bayou La Batre, the state’s major seafood port, showed no sign of decline since the spill.

But that’s no consolation for Donny Waters, a Pensacola, Florida, fisherman who has been involved with efforts to rebuild the red snapper populations off the Florida panhandle.
“I’m still catching fish. I’m not saying everything’s dead,” Waters said. “But it’s taking me longer to catch my fish. I’m not seeing the snappers farther around reefs, whether they’re natural or artificial. I’m not seeing the reefs repopulate nearly as fast since the oil spill.”

‘BP has retired me’
Like many in the trade, Encalade and the other guys on his dock in Pointe a la Hache can spin epic tales. But these days, they’re not about the catch. More often, they’re about the red tape and low-ball offers they’ve had to deal with in the compensation process set up after the spill — a process they say is stacked in favor of big operators.

“I got guys been fishing out here all their life. They’ve got trip tickets, more than you can imagine,” Encalade said, referring to the slips that document a boat’s daily catch. “You know what they come back and tell a man his whole life is worth? $40,000.”

The oil, the catch and the money: All converge at the big federal courthouse on Poydras Street in New Orleans, where squadrons of lawyers have massed for what promises to be a protracted brawl to figure out how much BP will end up paying for the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

BP says it has shelled out $32 billion for the disaster, including $14 billion for cleanup. It’s also spent $300 million on everything from testing seafood to its ad campaign that encourages people to come back to the Gulf, and it pledged $500 million for research into the environmental effects of the disaster.

The company has paid to help replace oyster reefs in Mississippi and Louisiana and rebuild sand dunes and sea turtle habitats in Alabama and northwest Florida. In addition to monitoring part of the Gulf coastline, BP spokesman Scott Dean said, the company has planted new grass in the Louisiana marshes, where the losses sped up erosion already blamed for the loss of an area the size of Manhattan every year.

But of about 13,000 holes drilled into the beaches and marshes in search of settled oil, Dean said, only 3% have found enough to require cleanup, he said.

“The vast majority of the work has been done,” Dean said. But when previously undiscovered oil from the Deepwater Horizon blowout does turn up, “We take responsibility for the cleanup,” he said.

Last year, the company agreed to pay $7.8 billion to individuals and businesses who filed economic, property and health claims. But in March, the company asked a judge to halt those payments, arguing that it was facing hundreds of millions or even billions of dollars in payouts for “fictitious losses.”

It’s also pleaded guilty to manslaughter charges and fined $4 billion in the deaths of the 11 men killed aboard the rig and been temporarily barred from getting new federal contracts.

Now BP is back in court, battling to avoid a finding of gross negligence that would sock it with penalties up to $4,300 per barrel under the Clean Water Act — another $17 billion-plus by the federal government’s estimate of the spill. BP says that figure is at least 20% too high.

The plaintiffs include the federal government, the states affected by the disaster and people like Encalade and Barisich, who have rejected previous settlement offers from BP.
Freddie Duplessis, whose boat is tied up next to Encalade’s, settled with the company. He said he received about $250,000 from BP after the spill, including money the company paid to hire his boat for the cleanup effort. That’s about what he says he would have made in six months of fishing before the spill, before expenses.

I got guys been fishing out here all their life. You know what they come back and tell a man his whole life is worth? $40,000.
Pointe a la Hache oysterman Byron Encalade

“I’ve been all right. I’ve been paying my bills, but what I’m gonna do now?” asked Duplessis, 54. “You’re still gonna have bills. Everything I’ve got is mine, but I’ve got to maintain it.”

But proving just how much damage can be blamed on the oil spill will be a difficult task in the courtroom. That’s where the Natural Resource Damage Assessment, launched after the disaster and partly paid for by BP, comes in. And right now, the studies that make up that assessment are closely held, ready to be played like a hole card in poker.

“There’s a substantial amount of fisheries work that’s not actually going to see the light of day until after the court case is resolved,” USF’s Murawski said.

The region’s seafood landings largely returned to normal in 2011, after the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration closed most of the Gulf to fishing during the blowout, NOAA data show. And BP notes that across the four states that saw the most impact — Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida — shrimp and finfish catches were up in 2012 compared with the average haul between 2007 and 2009.

Blue crab was off about 1%. And while oysters regionwide remained 17% below 2007-09 figures, the company says that the flooding that hit the region in 2011 has been blamed for some of that downturn, again by dumping more fresh water into the coastal estuaries.

But Gulf-wide, shrimp landings in 2011 and 2012 were about 15% below the 2000-09 average, according to figures compiled by Mississippi State University’s Coastal Research and Extension Center.

And in Louisiana, there’s still a pronounced downturn.

State data show that blue crab landings are off an average of 18%, and brown shrimp — the season for which the industry is now gearing up — is down 39% compared with the 2002-09 catch.

In Yscloskey, Barisich said three bayou fishermen took settlements from BP, sold their leases and walked away from the docks. As for him, at 56, he’s trying to adapt.

He’s studying for a license that will allow him to take passengers out on shrimp trawls — a kind of working vacation for tourists with a taste for the job he learned from his father.
“I can’t do what I have for the last two years,” he said.

And in Pointe a la Hache, Encalade got heartbreaking news in early April.

The public reefs in nearby Black Bay, one of the post-spill reconstruction projects, had been closed after spat turned up to protect the larvae. But the spat died, and the reefs were being reopened to allow the few remaining mature oysters to be harvested.

“All the little oysters have died, and the big oysters, you can’t make a dollar with them,” Encalade said. “BP has retired me out of the oyster business.”

Special thanks to Richard Charter