It was April 20, 2010, when the Deepwater Horizon oil drilling platform operated by global oil company BP and partners Halliburton and Transocean caught fire, blew up, and sank, releasing uncounted tons of toxic crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico. Federal enforcement action against the companies responsible is now in the trial phase, and could result in tens of billions of dollars in penalties for BP and its partners. But for shoreline states and communities impacted by the spill, it has already been a long wait for compensation.
The Lafayette (Louisiana) Advertiser has this anniversary report ("3 years after Gulf oil spill, region still waits on BP funds," by Deborah Barfield Berry and Mary Troyan.
"There are still state governments along the Gulf Coast and communities that have not received nearly what is intended to make them whole and to help our economy get back on its feet," said U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-New Orleans. "We have great work [ahead] to restore this coast and nickels and dimes are not going to help. We need serious funding."
Time is not the Gulf's friend, some observers say. "One of the things that's particularly difficult is, the longer you wait to restore an ecosystem, the harder it gets," said Sara Gonzalez-Rothi, a senior policy specialist at the National Wildlife Federation. "It's time for justice for the Gulf."
Time was also a factor in the state of Mississippi's decision on April 19 to file suit against BP in federal and state court: the three-year statute of limitations on litigation was set to expire the next day, ABC News reported ("Miss. Becomes 3rd State to Sue BP for Oil Spill," by Jeff Amy/Associated Press).
Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood said his state would have preferred a negotiated settlement to a lawsuit. But, said Hood, BP refused to play along: "BP would not even agree to waive the statute of limitations while we negotiated, which could have prevented the state from having to file suit and saved both them and the taxpayers a lot of money paying lawyers and fighting in the courts," he said.
Meanwhile, the biological clock is ticking. Observers of the ecologically sensitive shoreline say that among other harmful effects, oil intrusion into coastal marshland areas has worsened coastal erosion by damaging or killing marsh grasses that protect the estuary against wave action. The Plaquemines Gazette has this report on the effort to halt the marshlands' decline ("Saving what's left," by Jessica Gonzalez). "About 1,110 miles of shoreline were oiled when the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded on April 20, 2010, killing 11 people and dumping 4.4 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico," the paper writes. "That massive contamination weakening the root system of the marsh grass, topped off with Louisiana's long running battle with subsidence and coastal erosion, is proving to be a deadly combination for the vital wetlands." And the marsh area around the Delta is one of the factors helping to protect populated areas inland from disastrous hurricane storm surges.
The New Orleans Times-Picayune reports on planned efforts to restore wetland ecosystems, as funds from settlements and lawsuits become available ("As 3rd anniversary of BP oil spill nears, wetlands' restoration advocated," by Benjamin Alexander-Bloch). "One coastal restoration project already going out to bid, known as the Mid-Barataria Diversion, would provide a major diversion of freshwater and sediment from the Mississippi River to build wetlands in the Barataria Basin," the paper reports. "It is initially expected send a maximum of 50,000 cubic feet per second of water through a structure on the river's west bank."
"The spill gives us an opportunity," said David Muth, director of the National Wildlife Federation's Mississippi River Delta Restoration Program. "While a tragedy, the spill also means there is going to be money, and we want to make sure it is spent to achieve the best results, to restore the system to the way it works best."
Oyster fishermen are worried about the short-term impact of river diversions on the oyster beds that are their livelihood, the Plaquemines Gazette notes. But Byron Marinovich, who owns the Black Velvet Oyster Bar in Buras, Louisiana, told the paper that the risk to shellfishing has to be weighed against the cost of doing nothing. Said Marinovich: "I know a lot of the oyster fishermen are afraid of big diversion's blasting out 250,000 cfs and wiping out oysterbeds, but they need to realize that if we don't do something now they'll be fishing out of New Orleans East."