A recent Financial Times article reported that BP rejected the government’s $147 million request to fund Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) activities in 2014 as part of ongoing efforts to quantify and remedy environmental harm related to the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster. The law requires that responsible parties of oil spills, including BP, pay for reasonable costs of assessing oil spill damage to the environment. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) submitted the request, which was the latest in a series of routine requests the NRDA Trustee agencies have submitted since the disaster in 2010. Undertaking scientific study and analysis is the only way for the Trustee agencies to document environmental harm caused by the disaster and to estimate the cost of restoration, for which BP and other companies found liable are responsible. The NRDA injury studies will help guide the types of actions needed to restore resources injured by the disaster. By law, BP may participate in NRDA studies the company funds, but the Trustee agencies analyze the raw data independent of BP and form their own conclusions about natural resource injuries.
BP’s refusal to pay for NRDA activities already underway is not helpful, nor does it uphold the spirit of working in good faith that BP continues to tout in full page newspaper ads and TV commercials to this day. This may be a smart legal strategy, but it’s a form of posturing that won’t get us any closer to understanding the environmental harm that was done or the actions needed to restore coastal and marine species, habitats, and the goods and services that support ocean-dependent businesses and a way of life. NOAA’s request covered a wide range of scientific activities for natural resources such as bluefin tuna, sea turtles, dolphins, oysters, coastal wetlands and sargassum, a floating brown alga teeming with marine life. These species and habitats are priorities for continued study because they are among the hardest hit, according to experts and publicly available data and research. Now, because of BP’s refusal, NOAA essentially must seek an advance from the National Pollution Funds Center (NPFC) to carry out this science. The NPFC, administered by the U.S. Coast Guard, is the mechanism set up to adjudicate funding requests for NRDA studies when responsible parities deny those requests.
BP has a legal right to dispute the Trustees’ interpretations of the science, but denying the funding to collect, analyze, and manage the information that supports restoration amounts to sidestepping their repeated commitment to making the Gulf ecosystem whole. The company has a civic duty and a legal obligation to fund the science that is so fundamental to clarifying and repairing harm to the environment. BP, in its own words, should “make this right” by doing right and support this research in the Gulf.