The Gulf Oil Spill - Natural Resource Damage Assessment
Natural Resource Damage Assessment
The full extent of the natural resource damages caused by the BP spill has not yet been addressed, and likely will not be for some time to come. Presently, an official assessment is being coordinated with the affected states by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA’s) Damage Assessment, Remediation and Restoration Program. The U.S. Coast Guard named both BP and Transocean as responsible parties under the Oil Pollution Act (OPA). As such, they are potentially liable for any injury to natural resources belonging to the federal government, the states, or American Indian tribes. 33 U.S.C. § 2702(b)(2)(A).
Natural resource damages are measured by the cost of restoring, rehabilitating, or acquiring an equivalent resource; any diminution in value of the resource pending restoration; and the reasonable cost of assessing the damage. 33 U.S.C. § 2706(d). Appointed trustees for the federal government, states and Indian tribes are responsible for assessing injury to the natural resource and presenting claims to those responsible. 33 U.S.C. § 2706. Natural resources that have been impacted by the spill include fish and shellfish; marine mammals (including dolphins and endangered whale species); birds (including species like the Brown Pelican that are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act); turtles (including four species that are threatened or endangered); and habitat (such as marshes, mangroves, beaches and coral and shell reefs).
NOAA has divided its natural resource damage assessment into the following categories:
Fish and shellfish
Deep water habitat (e.g., deepwater coral)
Near-shore habitats (including sea grasses, mud flats, coral reefs)
Shoreline habitats (including salt marsh, beaches, mangroves)
Land-based wildlife and habitat
Human uses of natural resources (fishing, boating, beach recreation)
Fish and wildlife collection reports are available on the Unified Command website. These list how many birds, mammals, sea turtles, and other reptiles have been collected either alive or dead, whether covered in oil or not, and eventually released. To date, a total of 6,104 dead birds; 592 dead turtles, and 97 dead mammals (including dolphins) have been collected.
Currently, federal and state trustees are conducting a natural resource damage assessment. These are conducted in three phases: preassessment, restoration planning, and restoration implementation. The trustees have completed preassessment and issued a notice of intent to begin restoration planning. Once a restoration plan has been developed, it will be released for public comment.