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BP Settlement To Address Ecosystem Damage Caused By Oil Spill


The Deepwater Horizon spill is considered one of the worst environmental disasters in U.S. history. It's hard to forget the images of oil escaping unabated into the Gulf of Mexico, those photos of pelicans covered in thick sludge. For more on the environmental impact and what opportunities this settlement now brings, we're joined by Bethany Kraft. She's director of the Gulf Restoration Program with the environmental group Ocean Conservancy. She joins us from New Orleans. Thanks so much for being with us.

BETHANY KRAFT: Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: If you were to go out into the Gulf today, more than five years after this spill, what do you see? Is there damage that is still plainly visible to the eye?

KRAFT: Well, we know that there are ongoing impacts in the environment, both on the coast and under the water, in the marine environment. For instance, a recent study released just this spring estimates that there's still 10 million gallons of oil buried in sediment on the seafloor. And we've seen a lot of emerging and troubling impacts for wildlife all the way from deep-sea corals to fish to dolphins. So there's still a lot of work to be done, and we're still learning what the ultimate impacts of this disaster will be on our ecosystem.

MARTIN: So it sounds like there's not really a consensus about how bad the damage actually is or how to fix it.

KRAFT: These assessment's been going on since the early days of the Deepwater Horizon, and with the settlement today, there's actually some additional money set aside to continue studying the impacts. And perhaps most importantly, there's a reserve account that will be spent if, at some point in the future, we see some long-term impacts that we just can't anticipate today, and we'll be able to address those.

MARTIN: Suggesting that there could be damage done to the Gulf or the ecosystem that you don't even know about yet.

KRAFT: That's absolutely right. This was a huge disaster that unfolded in a very complex environment. We're learning more every day about what the impacts of the oil spill are, but we also know that sometimes, it takes decades to fully understand what the ramifications of this much oil could ultimately do.

MARTIN: So setting that aside, understanding that it may take years to fully grasp the environmental impact of this oil spill, are their one or two projects that you think need urgent attention that this money could really help?

KRAFT: Absolutely. So in Louisiana for instance, there's a coastal master plan. We know that Louisiana's experiencing wetlands loss at an incredibly alarming rate, and some of this money can be put towards implementing projects in that master plan that will help build back marsh that we really need not only to support our important fisheries and other wildlife habitat, but that provide critical storm surge protection and provide a buffer from hurricanes for vulnerable communities. And then there's, of course, some really important marine restoration projects that we'd also like to see unfold with some of this money to start helping impacted marine mammals like dolphins begin to recover, to address impacts to bluefin tuna and other critters that we rely on for food and who also play a really important role in the ecosystem.

MARTIN: Eight billion dollars for damages to natural resources - you've talked about a reserve account. Do you have any idea at this point how much of that tranche of money will go to fixing some of these problems you've outlined?

KRAFT: Well, that part of the settlement that you just outlined - the $8.1 billion, as you said - is specifically meant to address the damages that BP caused with the oil spill. Some of that money has already been spent. BP actually made a down payment on their ultimate claim of a billion dollars a few years ago, and so there are some projects that are underway. But we look forward, obviously, to seeing a lot more happening on the restoration side to fix what BP broke. From my standpoint, the spirit that this money should be spent in is really taking into account how much our economy depends on the health of our natural resources, and we need to really watch and ensure that this money is invested wisely in a way that makes shores us up, makes us stronger as a community and creates a legacy for generations to come.

MARTIN: Bethany Kraft is director of the Gulf Restoration Program with the environmental group Ocean Conservancy. Thanks so much for your time.

KRAFT: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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