Hurricane Isaac Churns Up Reminder of BP’s Damage to the Gulf of Mexico

Written By
Bethany Kraft
Tar balls photographed by Louisiana state response teams on Elmer’s Island in Jefferson Parish on September 1, 2012. Credit: Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries

Last week was a long one for Gulf Coast residents as we watched Hurricane Isaac waffle about where to land before settling on coastal Louisiana, causing massive flooding from storm surge in Mississippi and Louisiana and bringing businesses and communities to a grinding halt for over a week.

As if we didn’t have enough to deal with, what with hurricanes and flooding and power outages and devastation for too many people, we also had the pleasure of remembering (in case any of us had forgotten) that we are still in the grips of responding to and recovering from the BP oil disaster.

Far from magically disappearing, oil has persisted in the marine environment for over two years now, and the force of Hurricane Isaac has churned up an ugly reminder of how much work we still have to do to restore the Gulf ecosystem. Tarballs and mats are showing up from Louisiana to Alabama, even forcing the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries to issue a closure for commercial fishing in the area of a large oil mat off Elmer’s Island.

Officials are working to assess the extent of oiling after the storm, and are not surprised to see oiled shorelines corresponding to areas that experienced significant oiling during the summer and fall of 2010 and beyond.

“I’d say there is a smoking gun,” Garrett Graves, the coastal adviser to Louisiana’s governor Bobby Jindal, told news organizations in this article from the Guardian. “It’s an area that experienced heavy oiling during the spill.’”

In the midst of the re-oiling of miles of shoreline and the stark reminder that our marine environment is ground zero for oil persisting in the environment, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) recently responded to what it calls “plainly misleading representations in BP’s papers concerning liability and Natural Resource Damage (“NRD”) issues” in a motion BP filed on August 13 asking the court to approve a private settlement regarding economic and property damage.

The DOJ states that BP’s motion for the private settlement “overreaches in seeking to establish either that it acted without gross negligence and willful misconduct or that the environment has recovered without harm from the discharge of millions of barrels of oil.”(Page 4 of DOJ brief.)

The filing gives an overview of DOJ’s case for gross negligence and willful misconduct, and provides evidence that the environment is still suffering lasting damage and degradation as a result of BP’s actions, disputing BP’s assertion that many aspects of the Gulf are recovering, stating that while “it is true that many resources are in a better condition than at the height of the Spill — after all, they are no longer slathered in layers of BP’s oil— it is also true they continue to suffer significant harm from the Spill, and it is not possible at this time to conclude that they have recovered, despite the information that BP presents.” (DOJ brief at 27.)

There is much work to do, but together we can take on any challenges we face. Tomorrow I will write about how Ocean Conservancy is thinking about restoration in the marine environment.

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