BP oil disaster penalties and settlements fund billions of dollars in Louisiana coastal projects

Monday marks 10 years since the Macondo well blow out in the Gulf of Mexico
Updated: Apr. 21, 2020 at 9:09 AM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - Ten years ago today, 130 miles from New Orleans, BP was struggling to manage the extreme forces in its Macondo oil well.

Concrete seals put in to stop gas from flowing up the drill pipe failed, as did the blowout preventer on the sea floor.

A giant gusher of oil and gas rocketed to the surface, resulting in an explosion and fire that killed 11 workers on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig.

Over the course of the next 87 days, 134 million gallons of oil gushed from the well until BP finally capped it.

The Gulf of Mexico, especially then, was a surprisingly mysterious place.

"The deep Gulf hadn't really been studied that extensively compared to a lot of other oceanic basins," said David Muth, director of Gulf restoration for the National Wildlife Federation.

In the 10 years following the disaster, much of the Gulf has recovered.

However, a NWF report recently found much is not right with the Gulf, including with bottlenose dolphins which continue to suffer unexplained illnesses.

Speckled trout populations have never bounced back entirely, the report notes, though no knows exactly why.

Way down on the sea floor, centuries-old deep sea coral when last studied several years ago were in decline.

“Very cold, very dark, very slow-growing organisms,” Muth said. "We don’t really know much about them and we don’t know how long it will take or if they can ever really come back.

The official federal damage assessment estimates that somewhere between 10,000 and 19,000 brown pelicans died as a result of the spill.

One of the great ironies of the BP disaster is the billions of dollars the oil giant and its partners are spending on environmental restoration.

Using money set aside for natural resources, the state of Louisiana recently restored Queen Bess Island, a pelican metropolis at nesting time.

"We absolutely know that many of the birds behind us today were birds that we here during the oil spill," said Todd Baker, a biologist with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.

A state banding program confirms a number of pelicans here survived the disaster, Baker said.

Queen Bess is just one of a couple dozen coastal projects the state has completed with fines and settlement payments.

"Game changing projects, cornerstone projects that have been envisioned for years will finally see the light of day as a result of this funding," said Chip Kline, Chairman of the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority.

The money for Louisiana’s coast will total somewhere around nine billion dollars by the time BP stops making payments in the year 2032.

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