Funds Flowing Seven Years After The Deepwater Horizon Oil Disaster
Today marks seven long years since the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster began to unfold. Eleven men were lost in the initial explosion and oil flowed into the Gulf of Mexico for 87 days. Devastating injuries occurred across all categories of wildlife, from sea turtles to whales, shorebirds to oysters, corals to plankton. And the science continues to pour in regarding the fate of BP oil and its continued impacts.
One might think that seven years later, the chapter on Gulf recovery has closed. In fact, we’re really still in the early days of restoring the Gulf. BP settled its case with the U.S. Department of Justice and the five Gulf states just last year for $20.8 billion dollars. Money from this settlement becomes available for the first time this month and will be paid out over the next decade and a half.
The National Wildlife Federation calculates that more than $16 billion will be available for ecological restoration in the Gulf from all the various Deepwater Horizon fines and penalties. (Much of the remaining funds will go to the five Gulf states and several hundred local governmental bodies to settle claims for economic damages they suffered as a result of the spill.)
Roughly a quarter of the total has already been awarded or are in the process of being committed to projects across the Gulf. The money is coming back to the Gulf through three main sources:
- BP and Transocean’s criminal fines are being administered by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation via the Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund;
- The RESTORE Act, passed in 2012, which sends money from the Clean Water Act civil penalties back to the Gulf states; and
- The Oil Pollution Act fines which are allocated via the Natural Resource Damage Assessment process.
This is the largest environmental restoration effort in our nation’s history – but even it might not be enough to fully restore the Gulf. And given that each of these funding sources is being administered by different rules and by different decision-making bodies, it’s easy to see how even if everyone follows the letter of the law, they might end up failing to make a meaningful difference for the Gulf.
That means people have to step up. We will have to go beyond the minimum requirements to make restoration matter for the Gulf’s people and wildlife. We will have to follow the science and work across state lines, funding streams and agency silos.
That’s why the National Wildlife Federation released its new report Making the Most of Restoration: Priorities for a Recovering Gulf. We see this as our contribution to the collective conversation around Gulf restoration. We believe that the 50 projects in this report, if funded, will make real strides in the effort to restore the Gulf of Mexico and we encourage decision-makers to strongly consider these projects and others like them.
For many of the decision-makers, Gulf restoration has become a legacy issue for their careers. They realize that the ability to influence the spending of billions of dollars on projects on the coast and in the Gulf is something worth doing right. They also understand it’s something worth doing together, and that collaborating with neighboring states, federal agencies, local municipalities, conservation organizations, business owners, and sportsmen and women across the Gulf – this is time well spent.