On April 20, 2010, the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig explosion occurred about 40 miles southeast of the Louisiana coast. It is considered to be the largest accidental marine oil spill in the world and the largest environmental disaster in U. S. history. The explosion killed 11 workers and injured 16 others. It caused the Deepwater Horizon to burn and sink, resulting in a massive offshore oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Millions of barrels of oil were discharged onto the shorelines of gulf coast states for almost three months. It coated miles of wetlands with thick oil, killing birds, fish and marine mammals and caused tar balls to wash up on Gulf beaches. The drilling rig was owned by BP and in the intervening years law suits and litigation have been ongoing.
This July, BP agreed to pay an $18.5 billion settlement to all federal, state and local claims against the oil company arising from the Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill. The deal still must be approved by United States District Court Judge Carl Barbier in New Orleans, who presided over the two year civil trial concerning the spill. If the settlement is approved it will be the largest civil settlement ever with a single entity and the largest environmental settlement in the history of the United States.
Under the agreement, the funds will go to the affected governmental entities under these categories: Economic Claims $4.9 billion, Natural Resource Damages $8.1 billion, Restore Act $5 billion and Local Claims $1 billion. The money will be going to the Gulf of Mexico states: Florida, Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and Texas.
The oil spill caused significant impacts to Florida’s natural resources and economy. Of Florida’s 790 miles of coastline, 177 miles received some degree of oiling. As part of the agreement Florida would receive at least a total of $3.252 billion. The bulk of the funds ($2 billion) will go for economic damages, at least $680 million for natural resource damages and $572 million from the Restore Act. The payments will come in over the course of several years per an agreed schedule.
Several statements were released after the news was released that reflect the different opinions on the settlement. Governor Rick Scott said, “This agreement will help Florida implement key projects and invest in environmental priorities to keep our state beautiful.”
Senator Nelson said: “Considering this was the worst environmental disaster in history and it was caused by gross negligence, the amount of penalties specifically for violations of the Clean Water Act could be – and, I think, should be – much larger. Five years after the spill, we’re still learning more about its environmental and economic impacts. And it could be another five years or more before we know the full toll the spill has taken on the Gulf.”
Eric Draper, the Executive Director of Audubon Florida said: “July 2, 2010 was the first day when ‘Oil Impact Notices’ were posted on Florida beaches. Now five years later funds will finally be committed to managing and improving coastal habitats and water resources. Audubon is urging Governor Scott to direct that funds only be spent in a way consistent with a Florida Gulf ecosystem plan to make sure that restoration funds are spent to best benefit Florida’s environment. Audubon Florida is ready to help.”
Picture courtesy of NOAA