April 20, 2011 06:00 AM
Wednesday, April 20, 2011

While still spending millions restoring its public image on the Gulf Coast, BP maintains that the impact of the spill is dissipating.  By Kandace Graves


It's hard to tell the truth from well-spun fiction when it comes to BP's intentions to restore the Gulf of Mexico following the April 20, 2010, explosion on the Deepwater Horizon and the ensuing flow of millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf.
Wednesday, April 20, 2011

While still spending millions restoring its public image on the Gulf Coast, BP maintains that the impact of the spill is dissipating.  By Kandace Graves


It's hard to tell the truth from well-spun fiction when it comes to BP's intentions to restore the Gulf of Mexico following the April 20, 2010, explosion on the Deepwater Horizon and the ensuing flow of millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf.

One thing's for sure: The state of Louisiana, the workers and residents who say their health has been ruined by the disaster and the seafood industry workers who are hanging on to their livelihood by a very frayed string cannot compete with the resources BP has to spend on public relations responses to every complaint that the oil giant's response is too slow or non-existent.

After the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries and the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority held a news conference Friday saying the state was adding $2 million dollars in emergency funding to prepare oyster seed grounds because BP had not come up with the money it had promised the state to restore the coast, Mike Utsler, chief operating officer of BP's Gulf Coast Restoration Organization, responds that BP isn't responsible for the condition of the oyster beds because the state decided to turn on freshwater diversions to keep the oil from entering coastal wetlands - when the Coast Guard said it wasn't necessary and the action wasn't approved by the Unified Command overseeing responses to the oil gushing into the Gulf. Utsler also said the spill hasn't adversely affected oysters themselves, pointing to an article the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration published last week that says oysters haven't retained any of the oil that poured from the well that remained uncapped for weeks.

Garret Graves, who as chair of the CPRA is Gov. Bobby Jindal's coastal adviser, refutes Utsler's claims. He says the diversions, which began 10 days after the Deepwater Horizon exploded, are part of the state's normal oil spill contingency plan and were coordinated with the Coast Guard and the Army Corps of Engineers. He says neither BP nor the Coast Guard opposed the freshwater diversions at the time.

Graves also points out that the state isn't asking for extra money from BP to restore oyster beds, and that the oil company should know that. According to Graves, the state more than once informed BP it will use part of the money BP already is required to pay the state under the federal Oil Spill Act's Natural Resource Damage Assessment process.

Utsler says it could take years for the NRDA mitigation process to be finished.

In November 2010, BP Chairman and President Lamar McKay said at a new conference that BP was giving Louisiana $218 million for barrier island restoration and tourism and seafood promotion. Jindal also announced that BP agreed to pay another $15 million to seed oyster grounds and build new fisheries. In March, Jindal announced BP had reneged on those agreements.

BP also apparently is distancing itself from claims the spill is causing health problems for cleanup workers and other Gulf Coast residents exposed to the oil and chemicals used to corral it. In a Facebook Q&A session originally published April 12, Utsler answered pre-filed questions from the public. Here is a part of that transcript:

Question: What is BP doing to support the Gulf recovery?

Utsler: BP's efforts in the ongoing support to the Gulf is focused in four critical areas. The first is continuing to complete the response as we have committed. The second is to support the environmental restoration efforts through the process of Natural Resource Damage Assessment, which involves experts from federal, state, local and industry levels. Third, BP continues to support the economic restoration. And fourth, BP is working to support the reputation of the Gulf Coast by providing seafood and tourism grants to promote confidence in the Gulf Coast. Across all of these areas, BP continues to support responsible science to understand the environmental and economic effects associated with this spill.

Question: What does BP plan to do about all the oil that still is on the floor of the Gulf of Mexico?

Utsler: BP is continuing to support research and testing of the sediments and water column from deep water to shoreline. This is in addition to independent research that is ongoing by many differing groups of academia, and federal and/or state scientific communities. The data (which has been published and scientifically peer-reviewed to date) has not indicated oil in the sediments anywhere except within a 3km area around the Macondo well. Oil in the water column levels are below detectable limits and have been since fall 2010. Research continues to ensure that these findings remain accurate and consistent across the Gulf.

Question: Can Corexit be removed and, if so, how does BP plan to remove it?

Utsler: Corexit degrades quickly in the Gulf of Mexico environment. None of the thousands of water samples collected after Aug. 3, 2010, contained levels of Corexit that exceeded EPA's benchmarks for human health or dispersants. In the few samples where water contained detectable levels of any compound that is also found in Corexit, the amount was too small to harm human health or aquatic life, and too small to be removed.

(Kandace Graves is managing editor of New Orleans' Gambit. A version of this story originally appeared in that publication.)