$8.8 Billion Settlement Reached with BP Sets Stage for Important Restoration Work to Gulf of Mexico

Michael Connor, Deputy Secretary, U.S. Department of the Interior

This week, a federal court in New Orleans approved a $20.8 billion settlement to resolve civil claims resulting from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. It is the largest recovery of damages ever approved for injuries to natural resources.

This settlement is a momentous step towards restoring the Gulf – bringing an amount of funding dedicated to this iconic ecosystem. When coordinated with other restoration work, the settlement will help restore the Gulf and surrounding states for the benefit of its natural resources and those that depend on them for their livelihood and recreational use.

For 87 days, beginning in April 2010, 134 million gallons of oil spilled into the Gulf of Mexico,and covered over 43,000 square miles of its shoreline. It was the worst environmental disaster in our nation’s history.

Two boats split a murky sea filled with oil.
Oil spill response actions near drill site on May 27, 2010. Photo by Tom MacKenzie, USFWS.

With this settlement, there is a real opportunity to set the stage for important restoration work in the Gulf over the next 20-30 years. 

The Interior Department plays a major role in the restoration efforts. Two key efforts are the Deepwater Horizon Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) and implementing the RESTORE Act.

An oil-covered pelican is given a crucial scrubbing by U.S. Fish and Wildlife employees.
Brown pelican being rinsed following extensive cleaning at the Theodore Oiled Bird Rehabilitation Center in Alabama. Photo by Tom MacKenzie, USFWS.

Under the settlement, BP will pay the Natural Resource Damage Assessment Trustees up to $8.8 billion for restoration work to address natural resource injuries. The settlement includes:

•    $1 billion already committed during early restoration
•    $7.1 billion for restoration over 15-plus years, beginning in April 2017
•    Up to an additional $700 million to respond to natural resource damages unknown at the time of the agreement and/or to provide for adaptive management

Additionally, the settlement paves the way for an additional $5.5 billion in funding from Clean Water Act civil penalties through the RESTORE Act, and supports projects that will bring meaningful and lasting natural resource restoration to Gulf Coast communities.

Already, Interior’s priorities for building climate resilient landscapes are being fulfilled through the first round of RESTORE Act funding. The projects conserve existing habitat, restore degraded habitat, support our tribal responsibilities, and provide science-based information to ensure future projects are built on a solid foundation. 

U.S. Fish and Wildlife employees take notes by a sludge-filled bog.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists on Bird Island One, a rookery colony for shorebirds in Barataria Bay conducting first ground evaluation since the oil hit the bay in August 2010. Photo by Tom MacKenzie, USFWS.

The projects also focus on investments in water quality improvements and hydrologic restoration across the Gulf, and provide direct benefits to millions of migratory birds and hundreds of federally-listed, at-risk species. Interior is also working with Indian tribes in the Gulf to create a tribal youth conservation corps along the coastline. 

A sea turtle drenched in sludge is picked up by a U.S. Fish and Wildlife employee.
An oil covered Kemp's Ridley Turtle being rescued. Photo by NOAA.

The NRDA Trustees undertook an ecosystem approach to assessing the natural resources negatively impacted by the spill. This assessment shaped the Programmatic Damage Assessment and Restoration Plan and Final Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement, and will be implemented by the Trustee Council now that the settlement has been reached. More than 6,300 public comments were considered when finalizing the plan, and the trustees will continue to solicit input from the public as they begin to develop project-specific restoration plans. 

Two pelicans are released back into the wild by a group of U.S. Fish and Wildlife employees.
Two rehabilitated brown pelicans are released into the wild after being relocated to Aransas National Wildlife Refuge in Texas in June, 2010. Photo by USFWS.

For more information about this agreement and next steps, visit www.gulfspillrestoration.noaa.gov. For more information about the RESTORE Act, visit Restorethegulf.gov.