Fours years later, BP oil disaster still churns up environmental concerns

04/17/14 Janelle Irwin
WMNF Drive-Time News Thursday | Listen to this entire show:
Tags: environment, BP, Deepwater Horizon, oil spill, Gulf Restoration Network, David Jolly, Sierra Club


David Jolly doesn't support oil drilling near Florida's Gulf coast.

photo by Janelle Irwin

Four years after the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, researchers are still turning up evidence that the ecosystem is suffering. During a press conference Thursday on the downtown St. Pete waterfront, David White with the National Wildlife Federation said a recent study shows 14 species have problems likely caused by the oil and dispersants used to clean it up.

“Recently we found oil in the embryos, in the eggs of White Pelicans on their breeding grounds in Minnesota – both Macondo 252 oil and Corexit, the dispersant that was used to try to sink the oil after it spilled into the Gulf.”

Studies have also shown severe impacts to dolphins off Louisiana’s Gulf Coast and heart damage to blue and yellowfin tuna. Environmental impacts have killed off seagrasses in areas where oil washed on shore leading to increased erosion. And according to White, research hasn’t even scratched the surface.

“The impacts of the Exxon Valdez didn’t show up until years after the oil spill was over.”

A lawsuit against BP for damages from the spill will be in the billions of dollars, but exactly how much the five Gulf States affected will get won’t be known until after the trial and that doesn’t start until January. Most of the money awarded though will go toward restoration.

“But we don’t yet have a plan and without a plan what we’re going to end up with is random acts of restoration.”

USF St. Pete professor Robert Weisberg has been studying the spill since day one. He started out by tracking where the oil might end up, but now he wants researchers to focus more on monitoring impacts.

“We really don’t have a baseline for the Gulf of Mexico and until we establish such baseline we won’t. And so it is very difficult to assess in a very quantitative way what the damage is and what it will take to bring these natural systems back. We just don’t know.”

More inclusive monitoring efforts would not only help determine where and how to spend restoration funds, it would also help adapt to changes as the ecosystem heals. But even though environmental groups still have an eye on restoration, there’s also increased focus on making sure it doesn’t happen again. BP could have prevented the spill with a half million dollar valve they chose not to use. But that’s because it didn’t have to. State Representative Dwight Dudley.

“The regulations should have been better, they need to be better. We need to hold our leaders, our government officials’ feet to the fire to have the right kind of regulations to not allow something like this to ever happen.”

Restoration efforts have mostly been supported by Democrats like Dudley. Congress member Kathy Castor and U.S. Senator Bill Nelson have been vocal advocates. But Thursday Congress’ newest member, Pinellas County Republican David Jolly, voiced his support for restoration.

“Restoring the Gulf should not be a partisan issue. Protecting the Gulf should not be a partisan issue. Insisting that we get restoration right should not be a partisan issue and it’s why I’m here today.”

“And I would be remiss if I didn’t reiterate today the importance of preventing expanded drilling in the Eastern Gulf.”

But Sierra Club’s Florida regional spokesperson, Phil Compton doesn’t think that’s enough.

“What we learned four years ago is that drilling in the Eastern Gulf isn’t really the issue. Drilling anywhere in the Gulf is a threat to Florida.”

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman also weighed in on the potential negative impacts of continued drilling as oil companies press for seismic testing in the Atlantic Ocean. He wants to see elected officials at the state and national level to put more focus on renewable energy like solar.

“The kind that doesn’t kill or pollute; the kind that doesn’t destroy economies or fund terrorism.”

The anniversary of the BP oil spill is Sunday. On May 17th, environmental groups across the state will meet for Hands Across the Sand asking elected officials to reject dirty fuels. Supporters will meet at several Tampa Bay locations including St. Pete Beach, Indian Rocks Beach and South Tampa.

Four Years Into the Gulf Oil Disaster: Still Waiting for Restoration from National Wildlife Federation

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