Gulf of Mexico

Many Funding Sources, But Only One Chance to Get it Right

Gulf restoration in the wake of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster is part of an ongoing legal process and will involve potentially billions of dollars in environmental fines and lawsuits.


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The above flowcharts outline the flow of environmental fines in each of the five Gulf states through various funding sources, such as criminal settlements, the RESTORE Act, the Natural Resource Damage Assessment, and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

Resolution of Legal Claims

On October 5, 2015, the U.S. Department of Justice and the five Gulf states announced the resolution of these claims against BP arising from the BP oil disaster in a $20.8 billion settlement, to be paid out over time until 2035. The federal and state governments previously settled claims with MOEX, one of the companies involved. Additionally, BP agreed to settle for $4 billion to resolve criminal and administrative claims in 2013. Transocean, another responsible party to this oil disaster, also agreed to pay $1.4 billion in civil and criminal penalties.

These settlements provide greater certainty for restoration decision-makers and allow planning to move forward toward ecosystem-wide recovery and restoration. The settlement is an enormous opportunity for the Gulf of Mexico; that is why we must commit to decision-making processes grounded in science. We now have the opportunity to build a legacy for the Gulf by investing in long-term monitoring and research that will provide the tools by which we will be able to measure success.

Natural Resource Damage Assessment

In early 2011, the BP Deepwater Horizon Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) trustees and BP announced an unprecedented agreement to provide $1 billion for early restoration to address impacts from the oil disaster.

Since 2011, BP and the NRDA trustees agreed to almost $832 million in four phases of early restoration projects. These projects included $383 million to restore and conserve habitat, $203 million to replenish and protect living coastal and marine resources and $288 million to provide and enhance recreational opportunities. The pie chart here shows the total natural resource damages payments including the early restoration funds.

The BP settlement agreement resolved claims for natural resource damages totaling $8.8 billion. This amount includes $7.1 billion natural resource damage payments in addition to the $1 billion for early restoration. The $168 million balance remaining from early restoration will be paid into the natural resource damages fund, established by the settlement.

Natural resource damage funds will be allocated to restoration areas including “open ocean”, “region-wide”, and localized restoration in each of the five Gulf states. $1.24 billion is allocated to the “open ocean,” which is broadly defined as restoration of resources primarily in the ocean, but also includes administrative and preliminary planning across restoration areas. $350 million is allocated to “region-wide” projects to benefit resources across the Gulf, but also includes funding for research, monitoring, oversight and planning.

The agreement also includes up to $700 million (from interest on the balance of the $7.1 billion) in additional payments from BP to cover any further natural resource damages that are unknown at the time of the agreement, and to cover adaptive management or other NRDA projects into the future. In addition to this interest payment, BP will pay the Trustees $232 million at the end of the payment period.

RESTORE Act

Passed in the summer of 2012, the RESTORE Act directs 80 percent of Clean Water Act fines paid by BP and other responsible parties toward the places in the Gulf where the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster occurred. The Senate passed the RESTORE Act as an amendment to the transportation bill in an overwhelmingly bipartisan vote of 76-22. The House voted 293-127 in April 2012 to pass the transportation bill, which included the RESTORE Act.

The RESTORE Act will direct funding toward the places where it’s needed most — to execute a comprehensive ecosystem restoration plan and to ensure the future health of the birds, dolphins, sea turtles, fish and, of course, the local communities that greatly depend on our ocean.

Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council

When the RESTORE Act was passed, it called for the creation of a Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council to develop a comprehensive restoration plan for the Gulf. The Council has adopted the four ecosystem restoration goals identified by the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Task Force:

  • restore and conserve habitat
  • restore water quality
  • replenish and protect living coastal and marine resources
  • enhance community resiliency

Additionally, the Council has created a fifth goal to “restore and revitalize the Gulf economy.” Accomplishing this fifth goal will require the achievement of the first four priorities.

Public meetings were held across the Gulf Coast to collect restoration ideas and needs from local citizens. The Council released its initial Comprehensive Plan to provide an integrated approach to Gulf restoration in July 2013.

National Fish and Wildlife Foundation

In 2013, a federal court approved two plea agreements resolving criminal charges against BP and Transocean which arose from the BP oil disaster. The agreements direct a total of $2.544 billion to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) to fund projects benefiting the natural resources of the Gulf Coast that were impacted by the spill. Through NFWF, projects benefiting marine resources have been funded including fisheries monitoring and data collection, sea turtle habitat protection and expanding marine mammal stranding networks and response across the Gulf.

Restoration will be truly successful only if federal and state agencies coordinate with one another across programs to ensure these billions of dollars provide a foundational investment in the long-term recovery and sustainability of the Gulf of Mexico, its resources and its communities.

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