> From: “Florida Department of Environmental Protection”
> Date: June 28, 2013 11:11:02 AM EDT
> Reply-To: FloridaDEP@public.govdelivery.com
> content.govdelive/6F58FB55.jpg

> 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.

Greenville Online: House passes Duncan’s Gulf drilling bill


I especially object to waiving the Frank-Dodd disclosure regulations.

The U.S. House voted Thursday to open about 1.5 million acres in the western Gulf of Mexico to oil and gas drilling as part of an agreement negotiated by the Obama administration and promoted by Republican Rep. Jeff Duncan. / GNS
Written by
Mary Orndorff Troyan
Washington bureau

WASHINGTON – The U.S. House voted Thursday to open about 1.5 million acres in the western Gulf of Mexico to oil and gas drilling as part of an agreement negotiated by the Obama administration and promoted by Republican Rep. Jeff Duncan.

If approved by the Senate, the bill would implement a 2012 deal between the U.S. and Mexico to allow offshore drilling along their maritime border, an area believed to hold up to 172 million barrels of oil and 304 billion cubic feet of natural gas.

“We’re willing to say the administration got this one right,” Duncan, of Laurens, said Wednesday during a meeting with House GOP leaders. “This is another step toward lessening our dependence on foreign oil.”

The House vote was 256-171, mostly along party lines. Voting yes were 228 Republicans and 28 Democrats.

Despite its bipartisan origins, Duncan’s bill was controversial. Democrats objected because Republicans added a provision to exempt American companies from having to disclose payments made to foreign governments.

Exempting American energy companies from having to publicly report payments to Mexico “directly and negatively impacts U.S. efforts to increase transparency and accountability, particularly in the oil, gas and minerals sectors,” according to a White House statement.

The disclosure requirements are part of the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act.

“This (exemption) would allow big oil companies to make secret deals with the government of Mexico,” said Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore. “Rather than expediting things here, we’re messing them up.”

The White House did not threaten a veto of Duncan’s bill, but House Democrats predicted it would not pass the Senate with the disclosure waiver included.

Duncan, a member of the Energy and Commerce Committee and the Foreign Affairs Committee, defended the Dodd-Frank waiver as a way to prevent foreign companies from gaining a competitive advantage.

“These changes will ensure that American energy development will go forward,” Duncan said.

Democrats support a Senate version of the bill that would implement the drilling agreement without waiving financial disclosure requirements.

The agreement, signed in February 2012 by then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and then-Mexican Foreign Secretary Patricia Espinosa, would end the drilling moratorium in the Western Gap portion of the Gulf. It would allow U.S. companies to collaborate with the Mexican national oil company, PEMEX, to explore and develop the area. And it includes provisions for sharing royalties and a joint commitment to safety and environmental protection, including more rig inspections.

The agreement could be followed by others involving maritime boundaries with Canada, Russia, the Bahamas and Bermuda.

Special thanks to Richard Charter

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


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



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)

By Mark Schleifstein, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune
Follow on Twitter
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

E&E: OFFSHORE DRILLING: Landmark settlement aims to protect Gulf whales and dolphins

Jeremy P. Jacobs, E&E reporters
Published: Friday, June 21, 2013

Conservation groups, the Interior Department and oil and gas representatives yesterday reached a landmark settlement that will place restrictions on the use of seismic surveys to protect vulnerable populations of whales and dolphins in the Gulf of Mexico.

The settlement focuses on the use of high-intensity air guns, which fire air into the water every 10 to 12 seconds for weeks and months at a time. The technology is critical to prospecting in the Gulf of Mexico for new places to drill.

Advocates including the Natural Resources Defense Council, Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club and Gulf Restoration Network allege that the blasts — which are sometimes as intense as dynamite — threaten bottlenose dolphins and sperm whales, both of which have experienced die-offs since the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill.

“Today’s agreement is a landmark for marine mammal protection in the Gulf,” said Michael Jasny of NRDC. “For years this problem has languished, even as the threat posed by the industry’s widespread, disruptive activity has become clearer and clearer.”

The environmental groups filed their lawsuit in 2010 in a Louisiana federal court. They claimed that the blasts disrupted the whales, dolphins and other ocean species that rely on sound to feed, mate and navigate, though industry groups strongly dispute that characterization.

The environmentalists claimed that Interior violated the Marine Mammal Protection Act and Endangered Species Act when it permitted the use of air guns without preparing an environmental impact statement.

Several industry groups, however, pushed back on the lawsuit and NRDC’s claims. Moreover, Chip Gill, president of the International Association of Geophysical Contractors, classified the settlement as a “huge victory” because his members were already implementing many of its terms.

The lawsuit, he said, contained “numerous outlandish and unsubstantiated allegations. The environmental groups can’t prove them, so they are settling.”

Gill said a worst-case scenario would have been for the court to throw out Interior’s 2004 National Environmental Policy Act review. If that happened, permits could have been revoked or a hold could have been placed on future permits. None of that is part of yesterday’s settlement, he said.

Sperm whales and bottlenose dolphins have experienced significant and unexplained die-offs in the Gulf of Mexico since the 2010 spill. Environmentalists have sought to point the finger at the spill, but government scientists are continuing to study the cause, and the air guns are seen as a confounding variable in solving the problem.

The settlement prohibits the use of air guns in biologically important areas, such as the DeSoto Canyon, which is particularly important to endangered sperm whales. The canyon is also critical to Bryde’s whales.

Under the agreement, industry also may not use air guns along coastal areas during the main calving season of bottlenose dolphins between March 1 and April 30, and the settlement requires a minimum separation distance between surveys.

Additionally, the settlement, which still must be approved by the court, requires the use of listening devices to make sure the air guns aren’t disrupting marine mammals.

“The settlement not only secures new protections for whales and dolphins harmed by deafening air guns but also establishes a process for investigating alternatives to air gun surveys,” said Ellen Medlin of the Sierra Club, referring to a mandated Bureau of Ocean Energy Management report on new standards and multiyear research project to be developed on an less harmful alternative.

“As a result,” Medlin said, “the settlement not only delivers immediate benefits for Gulf marine mammals, but also takes the first step towards a long-term solution.”

Special thanks to Richard Charter

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


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


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.

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
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


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


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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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.



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


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


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

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.

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