Author Topic: BP refuses to pay for more research on Deepwater Horizon oil spill effects  (Read 947 times)

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Offline mayya

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BP refuses to pay for more research on Deepwater Horizon oil spill effects on dolphins, turtles, oysters

TED JACKSON / THE TIMES-PICAYUNE While aboard a customized vessel for physical examination and tissue sampling, one researcher is told to watch the eye to make sure the mammal stays alert and interested in what's going on as a way to monitor his vitals during the study in Barataria Bay, Monday August 15, 2011

BP has refused to pay for continued studies of the effects of its Deepwater Horizon oil spill onmarine mammals, turtles and oysters that officials say are required to complete a federally required Natural Resource Damage Assessment, according to documents obtained by | The Times-Picayune. That decision has forced the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to request $148 million from a federal oil spill trust fund to pay for the studies.

BP has agreed to pay for some of the studies included in NOAA's 2014 research proposal, but the company will do so "only as part of a cooperative assessment agreement that resolves serious defects in the current cooperative process," according to an Oct. 9, 2013, letter from Bea Strong, BP’s director of natural resource damages and regulatory affairs to senior NOAA officials.

The decision by BP to refuse to pay for the damage assessment research was first reported Sunday by Ed Crooks of the Financial Times.

NOAA and BP have not signed the wide-ranging cooperative agreement the company requested, forcing the agency to request the $148 million from the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund to pay for all of its proposed 2014 damage studies. 
The trust fund is financed through a per-barrel tax on petroleum produced in or imported to the United States, by transfers from other existing pollution funds, from recoveries of costs and damages from oil spill responsible parties, and from fines and other civil penalties under the Oil Pollution Act and several other federal laws.
NOAA initially submitted its 2014 work plan to the trust fund July 11, 2013. The plan has not yet been funded, officials said, but the research is continuing.

Those officials would not directly address BP’s decision not to pay for the research, beyond explaining the cooperative research process outlined in the federal Oil Pollution Act.
Strong’s letter and an attached white paper on oyster research written by the company’s lawyers, blame the immediate death of thousands of oysters in Louisiana and the slow return to health of oyster beds on the unilateral decision by Louisiana officials to divert fresh water from the Mississippi River into Breton Sound and Barataria Bay and on similar oyster-killing freshening caused by the 2011 Mississippi River flood and 2012 and 2013 high river events, rather than on exposure to BP’s oil.

If it is successful in arguing that the deaths and illnesses of marine mammals and sea turtles in the Gulf of Mexico in the years after the spill were the result of natural causes, the company could significantly reduce the ultimate cost of projects it will be required to implement to restore natural resources and compensate the public for the use of lost resources. 

"BP is committed to funding environmental restoration for damage caused by the spill, and a comprehensive scientific assessment of the effects of the spill is the first step in that process," said Geoff Morrell, BP senior vice president for U.S. communications, in a statement when asked about the funding refusal. "The Deepwater Horizon Natural Resource Damage Assessment, which consists of more than 240 studies to examine the health of the wildlife and habitat of the Gulf, is one of the largest ever environmental investigations of any kind, and BP has already spent more than $1 billion to support it.

"Even as the injury assessment is ongoing, restoration work has already begun," Morrell said. "In April 2011, BP committed to provide up to $1 billion in early restoration funding to expedite recovery of natural resources injured as a result of the accident and has reached agreement or agreement-in-principle with state and federal trustees on projects that will cost nearly $700 million."

NOAA did not directly respond to requests for comments on BP’s reasoning behind its decisions not to fund the research, including whether it believed the effects of the freshwater resulting from state’s decision to open the diversions should be considered as a result of the spill.

The NOAA statement said that if BP or other responsible parties decline to work cooperatively, the trustees -- which include the federal agencies and states involved in the oil spill response -- have the option of not doing the work or requesting funds to conduct the study from the trust fund. In this case, they have requested the funds.
Under the Oil Pollution Act, the trustees are required to offer to work cooperatively with the oil spill’s responsible parties, which means BP in this case.

The damage assessment process requires the trustees to quantify injuries to natural resources and identify possible restoration projects. If the trustees and responsible parties work together on that phase of the assessment and agree to the projects, the responsible party pays for the projects and they are implemented.
If not, the process is likely to end up in federal court, with the court deciding what projects the responsible parties must fund.

A Louisiana spokesman said the state is awaiting a decision on the freshwater diversion issue.
“The diversion issue is still very much in limbo,” said Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority Executive Director Kyle Graham. “We aren’t ready to comment.”

Graham said the state also is waiting for more information on the status of funding of research that its scientists are doing as part of the damage assessment.

“We have not yet been denied reimbursement for NRDA expenses, but BP has indicated it is coming,” Graham said. 

“They want to shut down assessment, and focus on restoration.

“We are likely years away from being comfortable with the assessment,” he said. “We are very concerned with the possibility of long-term injury. There has never been a spill like this one, the largest, most expensive and the longest active spill response, and a similar level of effort needs to be applied to assessment and restoration.”
BP did offer to pay the cost of operating the Sea Turtle and Marine Mammal Stranding Networks that are now paid for by NOAA, but only as an “early restoration project” that would be funded with part of $1 billion that the company has already set aside for projects to restore damage caused by the spill, rather than as part of its payment of NRDA expenses.

In her letter, Strong said that the NOAA’s request read as if the agency had halted its normal funding of that program, and instead funded it out of NRDA research money.

While the request does say that, it explains that the network is needed to handle stranded animals under the protocols required by the NRDA process.

“It is of critical importance for NOAA to have the capability to continue to quickly respond to stranded animals, conduct field necropsies using enhanced protocols and NRDA chain of custody procedures, transport carcasses to laboratory necropsy facilities and storage, properly preserve samples and carcasses for additional examination, and provide data/evidence handling and support,” the funding request said. “These data will be used to assess the need for further assessment of potential injuries to marine mammals and sea turtles resulting from the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill.”
And the request says that for the sea turtle network, the money will be used for additional staff, vehicles, supplies, equipment and training necessary to meet the NRDA response needs.

Strong also complained that NOAA has not shared information collected during many of its studies with the company.
“In addition, NOAA has disclosed almost no data associated with the sea turtle and marine mammal carcasses that have been collected, and has not provided the necropsy reports and veterinary files,” Strong said. “The limited data that NOAA has made available indicates that many marine mammals died as a result of Brucellosis, and that the Unusual 

Mortality Event for marine mammals began months before the Deepwater Horizon accident.”
NOAA did declare that an “unusual mortality event” involving stranded bottlenose dolphins did begin in February, two months before the spill. Early research on the dolphin deaths found several that were infected with brucellosis, but suggested that the illness may have been exacerbated by exposure to the BP oil.

In December, a more in-depth peer-reviewed study by NOAA, academic and non-governmental researchers published in the American Chemical Society’s Environmental Science & Technology journal concluded that nearly half the bottlenose dolphins in Barataria Bay tested in mid-2011 were in “guarded or worse” condition, including 17 percent that were not expected to survive.

At a news conference announcing the publishing of the paper, NOAA scientists said the evidence supports exposure to BP oil as the key factor in the poor health of Louisiana dolphins.

The study found the marine mammals had lung damage and abnormally low amounts of hormones produced by their adrenal glands at levels not previously seen in other dolphin populations.
The abnormalities were not found in dolphins tested in Sarasota Bay, Fla., chosen as a comparison site because it wasn’t contaminated with BP Macondo oil. 

The new research plan calls for additional health assessments of dolphins at a location along the Louisiana coast this summer and another location to the east, possibly in Perdido Bay, Fla., “to determine if health conditions previously documented in dolphins from the heavily oiled Barataria Bay are detectable in dolphins from other oiled sites.”
The research plan also calls for additional studies to better assess the exposure of sea turtles to BP oil, including the analysis of tissue from dead turtles.
The research funding request includes a request for more storage space for the carcasses of both marine mammals and sea turtles.

“The current long-term storage facility (currently directly funded by BP) is the Marque’s Food Distributor Warehouse in Harvey, La.,” the report said. “This freezer is expected to reach capacity at some point in 2014. It is currently being reorganized to free up additional space using stackable bins for dolphin carcasses. For 2014, NOAA requests funds for when Marque’s reaches capacity and we will need an alternative facility for long-term carcass storage.”

No information was included in the NOAA funding request on how many dead marine mammals and turtles were stored in the warehouse, but officials have reported that there were 1,066 turtle strandings – dead or injured – in 2010, and 1,536 reported between 2011 and 2013.

There also were 122 cetaceans – marine mammals that include dolphins – stranded or reported dead in the initial phase of the spill and another 936 reported from November 3, 2010 through April 13 of this year.
NOAA officials refused a request to photograph the storage area or for photographs the agency may have of the storage area, citing its use in the ongoing NRDA investigation.

In her letter, Strong said NOAA has not shared data collected by scientists for NOAA for ten categories of studies, including research on underwater reefs, information about Atlantic Bluefin tuna, and sea turtle