National Wildlife Federation
This photo, courtesy of the National Wildlife Federation, shows a portion of coastline fouled by the BP oil spill in 2010.
The Daily Review/John Flores
Coastal restoration projects will have a positive impact on wildlife, particularly wading, shore and colonial nesting birds.
BP spill plus 10: Coast projects advance
On April 20, 2010, natural gas blasted through the concrete core of the Mocondo Prospect well located in Mississippi Canyon Block 252. The well was located 41 miles off the Louisiana coastline near the mouth of the Mississippi River in the Gulf of Mexico.
At the time, BP was the lead developer of the well that was drilled some 5,000 feet below the surface.
The high pressure gas made its way up the riser of Deepwater Horizon Drilling Rig, which was owned by Transocean and leased by BP. When gas reached the drilling rig, it exploded into a burning inferno at 7:45 that evening.
For three days, the U.S. Coast Guard searched for 11 missing crew members. Meanwhile, on April 22, the rig capsized and sank, rupturing the rig’s riser, thus spewing oil into the Gulf of Mexico for the next 87 days until sealed on Sept. 19.
In its aftermath, the BP Deepwater Horizon explosion had taken the lives of 11 of 126 workers on board the rig and injured 17 others. Additionally, most estimates range from 3.19 to 4.9 million barrels of oil poured into the gulf and therefore became the largest marine oil spill in history far exceeding the 1979 Ixtoc I Oil Spill in the Bay of Campeche, the 1989 Exxon Valdez Oil Spill in Prince William Sound, Alaska, the 1991 Gulf War Oil Spill in Kuwait and many others that occurred around the world in the past century.
Not only was the manmade disaster responsible for the loss of human lives, it was also an ecological catastrophe.
The oil spread over 68,000 square miles of the gulf, roughly the size of the state of Missouri. Reports estimate oil was observed on over 800 miles of Louisiana shoreline that included approximately 200 miles of beaches and 650 miles of wetland shoreline. Essentially, shorelines from near the Macondo spill site all the way to the panhandle of Florida were effected to varying degrees.
There was extensive damage to mammalian marine life such as dolphins, porpoises and whales. Sea turtles were impacted. One study published in Marine Ecology Progress Series in 2014 estimated bird mortality could be as high as 800,000. And, research continues where invertebrates are concerned as micro-marine life is vital to estuaries and the entire ecosystem of the Gulf of Mexico.
In November of 2012, BP and the United States Justice Department settled criminal charges when BP pleaded guilty to 11 counts of felony manslaughter, two misdemeanors, and one felony count of lying to Congress. BP and the Justice Department agreed to $4.525 billion in fines and payments.
In September 2014, a U.S. District Court ruled that BP was primarily responsible for the oil spill, because of gross negligence and reckless conduct. In July 2015, BP agreed to pay $18.7 billion in fines as a result of the spill.
Since 1932, Louisiana has lost more than 1,800 square miles of land or roughly an area the size of the state of Delaware. Moreover, land loss that continues today at a rate of one football field every 100 minutes.
It’s been 10 years since the oil spill, as April 20, 2020 marks its anniversary. In the decade following the disaster the Resources and Ecosystem Sustainability, Tourist Opportunities, and Revived Economies of the Gulf Coast States Act (RESTORE ACT) was signed into law by President Obama July 6, 2012.
Part of the Act was establishing a council made up of governors from the 5 impacted states and various U.S. Department Secretaries, along with creating a Trust Fund from the penalties paid by BP.
Vanishing Paradise is a program that was launched in 2009 by Ducks Unlimited and the National Wildlife Federation to raise awareness and support in the outdoors community on a critical conservation issue of our time – restoring the Mississippi River Delta and Gulf Coast.
Just prior to Louisiana’s lockdown from the COVID-19 outbreak, I was invited by Bill Cooksey, Sportsman Outreach Coordinator with Vanishing Paradise and the National Wildlife Federation to hear a presentation on “A Decade After Disaster.” The presentation was conducted by Alisha Renfro, Ph. D. Coastal Scientist for the National Wildlife Federation.
Much of the presentation and discussion focused on Louisiana’s Coastal Master Plan, which comes at a cost of $50 billion over 50 years.
Renfro pointed out five objectives in the Master Plan that included flood protection, maintaining natural processes such as tidal activity, establishing or improving coastal habitats critical for wildlife, preserving cultural heritage, and of course the importance of a working coast. These objectives it was noted, were driven by decisions to primarily reduce the risk of flooding and to build and or restore coastal land.
There were several factors, Renfro says, that collectively contributed to land loss. In Refro’s power point listed were levees, sea-level rise, upriver dams, subsidence, hurricanes, oil and gas infrastructure, navigation channels, nutria and oil spill.
One of the positive things that came out of the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster was a very large down payment on the State’s Master Plan objectives as a result of the court settlements and subsequent RESTORE ACT provisions.
To date, from handouts provided to attendees, we learned there are currently 24 restoration projects that have been completed, are in construction, or are currently moving towards implementation.
Several of the projects listed included Louisiana’s Outer Coast Restoration Project, where beach, dunes, and back-barrier marsh habitat on three barrier islands was restored.
The Caminada Headline Restoration Project restored 489 acres of beach and dune habitat along seven miles of beach.
The Lake Hermitage Marsh Creation Project restored 100 acres of marsh in the Barataria Basin.
The Bay Denesse Project will restore and enhance emergent marsh habitat, increase habitat diversity and increase wetland productivity. The 2,550 acre improvement will improve habitat for shorebirds, marsh birds, and wintering waterfowl. Additionally, improve nesting and brood habitat for mottled ducks and secretive marsh bird.
Other projects include Queen Bess Island near Grand Isle that once was measured 45 acres and eroded to a scant 5 acres. The problem with that is the island is one of the State’s largest Brown Pelican rookeries. Using dredged Mississippi River sand pumped out the island it now has been restored to 37 acres and includes rock walls to help reduce erosion over time.
All of these projects were funded by BP settlement money. Out of the $16.67 billion total available for restoration across the Gulf, roughly $12.8 billion remains, with plenty of projects in the pipeline to make a very large dent in the State’s Master Plan in the foreseeable future.
One of the things Vanishing Paradise asks in an attempt to engage sportsman is, “Why should you care?”
Several reasons Vanishing Paradise points out is some 10 million ducks, geese, and other waterfowl from the Mississippi and Central Flyways winter along Louisiana’s coast. They point out recreational fishing generates nearly $10.5 billion and hunting nearly $1 billion.
Additionally, the state’s 10 coastal parishes host nearly 4,400 wildlife tourism-related businesses that generate over $200 million in tax revenue.
Another reason notes that one mile of coastal marsh can reduce tropical storm surge by as much as one foot. Moreover, Louisiana is home to 40 percent of the nation’s wetlands, where nearly 50,000 jobs rely on Louisiana fisheries.
The thing about awareness and advocacy is it often falls on deaf ears if you don’t have skin in the game.
Most Louisianans agree rebuilding the Mississippi River delta and Gulf coast for future generations is important. A decade after the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster, we’re well on our way to achieving that goal.