PANAMA CITY BEACH – Immediately following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, Julie Wraithmill wondered if future generations would be able to swim in the Gulf of Mexico’s waters.
Now, five years following the disaster, she hopes they won’t be shaking their heads at missed restoration opportunities.
“It’s a very big responsibility; we have to do right by the Gulf,” said Wraithmill, director of wildlife conservation for Audubon Florida. “This is a marathon, not a sprint.”
Since the spill began April 20, 2010, when the Deepwater Horizon exploded in the Gulf of Mexico southeast of Louisiana, releasing 3 million barrels of oil into the water and killing 11 men, BP has doled out more than $28 billion to help restore the environment and economy along the Gulf Coast.
The ongoing civil trial against BP will help determine the dollar amount that will be channeled into the RESTORE Act, a formula that dedicates 80 percent of Clean Water Act penalties to environmental and economic restoration projects in the five affected states.
“Since (the spill), there has been a lot of monitoring and research to truly quantify the effects,” Wraithmill said. “We may be hearing the echoes for some time before they’re understood.”
With RESTORE funds set to be distributed through several different channels, Gulf Coast environmentalists are encouraging the public to take part in the restoration process, which is set up to include several comment periods and review processes to ensure transparency.
Although the effects of the spill came only in the form of tar balls in the Bay County area, it did have an adverse impact on the area economy, forcing many out of work and driving tourists to other destinations.
“You need local people really involved,” Wraithmill said. “We can’t squander that funding; it needs to be used for the best expense possible.”
Bethany Kraft, director of the Gulf Restoration program for Ocean Conservancy, cited several studies that point to troubling findings for the health of the Gulf’s wildlife after the spill, including massive die-offs for dolphins, deepwater corals and coastal seabirds. As a nonprofit environmental advocacy group, Ocean Conservancy is pushing for restoration projects that take place where the spill occurred — in the marine environment.
“Unfortunately, the science tells us that we need to be diligent,” Kraft said. “I think in five years, we’re all grateful that the worst case scenario didn’t come to task … but there are troubling indications that long-term impacts in the Gulf of Mexico are going to be something we have to deal with for a long time to come.”
Kraft emphasized the need for an ongoing monitoring system that could track any long-term changes and help address environmental problems, as well as a map of the largely unexplored sea floor habitat in the Gulf of Mexico.
“We should be looking at projects that have multiple benefits, that help multiple species, that really get at the root of our environmental issues,” said Kraft, who echoed Wraithmill’s push for the public to stay vigilant in the process.
BP is “still on the hook for destroying what they damage, and we as the public are on the hook for making sure we spend that money wisely,” she said. “No matter how much BP pays, we still would not have enough to address all the needs in the Gulf of Mexico. We need to think really, really hard about how we’re investing. … We’ve got a lot of work to do and we don’t have a lot of margin for error.”
This article was written by Valerie Garman from The News Herald, Panama City, Fla. and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.