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Chapter Six173 173 Chapter Six “The worst environmental disaster America has ever faced.” Oiling a Rich Environment: Impacts and Assessment When President Barack Obama addressed the nation from the Oval Office on June 15—nearly two months after the Macondo well began gushing crude oil and one month before engineers subdued it—he said: Already, this oil spill is the worst environmental disaster America has ever faced. And unlike an earthquake or a hurricane, it’s not a single event that does its damage in a matter of minutes or days. The millions of gallons of oil that have spilled into the Gulf of Mexico are more like an epidemic, on1 that we will be fighting for months and even years. The Deepwater Horizon blowout produced the largest accidental marine oil spill in U.S. history, an acute human and environmental tragedy. Worse still, as discussed in Chapter 7, it occurred in the midst of environmental disasters related to land- based pollution and massive destruction of coastal wetlands—chronic crises that proceed insidiously and will require not months but decades of national effort to address and repair. Though wind and currents helped keep most of the spilled oil offshore, a▯ll told some 650 miles of Gulf Coast habitat were oiled to one degree or another▯— was hardest hit—impacting ecosystems, the economy, and human < Tyrone Turner/Photo courtesy of National Geographic 174 National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore D▯rilling Laws guide resolution of damages from the spill itself. There is a suite of policies and programs aimed at improving discrete environmental issues within the Gulf and along its coast. The law also provides compensation for direct economic impacts. This chapter analyzes these immediate impacts, not only on the natural environment but also on the economy and on human health in the affected region. Unfortunately, the human-health effects are the least-recognized fallout from the spill, and those least-well addressed in existing law and policies. The Impact on Nature The Deepwater Horizon oil spill immediately threatened a rich, productive marine ecosystem. To mitigate both direct and indirect adverse environmental impacts, BP and the federal government took proactive measures in response to the unprecedented magnitude of the spill. Unfortunately, comprehensive data on conditions before the spill—the natural 4 “status quo ante” from the shoreline to the deepwater Gulf—were generally lacking. Even now, information on the nature of the damage associated with the released oil is being realized in bits and pieces: reports of visibly oiled and dead wildlife, polluted marshes, and lifeless deepwater corals. Moreover, scientific knowledge of deepwater marine communities is limited, and it is there that a significant volume of oil was dispersed from the wellhead, naturally and chemically, into small droplets. Scientists simply do not yet know how to predict the ecological consequences and effects on key species that might result from oil exposure in the water column, both far below and near the surface. 6 Much more oil might have made landfall, but currents and winds kept most of the oil offshore, and a large circulating eddy kept oil from riding the Loop Current toward the Florida Keys. Oil-eating microbes probably broke down a substantial volume of the spilled crude, and the warm temperatures aided degradation and evaporation —favorable conditions not present in colder offshore energy regions. (Oil-degrading microbes are still active in cold water, but less so than in warmer water.) However widespread (and in many cases severe) the natural resource damages are, those observed so far have fallen short of some of the worst expectations and reported conjectures during the early stages 10 of the spill. So much remains unknown that will only become clearer after long-term monitoring of the marine ecosystem. Government scientists (funded by the responsible party) are undertaking a massive effort to assess the damages to the public’s ▯natural resources. Additionally, despite significant delays in funding and lack of timely access to the response zone, independent scientific research of coastal and marine impacts is proceeding as well. A rich marine ecosystem. Particularly along the Louisiana coast, the Gulf of Mexico is no stranger to oil spills.11But unlike past insults, this one spewed from the depths of the ocean, the bathypelagic zone (3,300–13,000 feet deep). Despite the ▯cold, constant darkness and high pressure (over 150 atmospheres), scientists know that the region has abundant and diverse marine life. There are cold-water corals, fish, and worms that produce light like fireflies to compensate for the perpetual night. Bacteria, mussels, and tub▯eworms have adapted to life in an environment where oil, natural gas, and methane seep from cracks in the seafloor. Endangered sperm whales dive to this depth and beyond to feed on giant squid 12 and other prey. National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore D▯rilling Elmer’s Island in Grand Isle, La. A dark tongue of oil invaded sensitive wetlands last May near Grand Isle▯, Louisiana, despite the presence of booms deployed to stop it. In a hopeful development over the summer, scientists found new plant growth in similarly oiled marshes, indicati▯ng that oil had not penetrated into root systems. Patrick Semansky/Associated Press Higher up the water column, light and temperature gradually increase and the ascending sperm whales—and Macondo well oil—encounter sharks, hundreds of fish species, shrimp, jellyfish, sea turtles, and dolphins. As the sperm whales surface for air at the bright and balmy Gulf surface, they pass through multitudes of plankton, floating seaweed beds, and schools of fish. Some of these fish species spend their early lives in t▯he coastal waters and estuaries; others travel along annual migration routes from the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf. The floating seaweed beds (sargassum), fish larvae, and plankton drift with the surface currents and are driven by the wind—as is the oil rising from below. The critical sargassum habitats lure sea turtles, tuna, dolphins, and numerous game fish to feed on the snails, shrimp, crabs, and juvenile species that seek shelter and food in the se▯aweed. Overhead are multitudes of seabirds—among them brown pelicans, northern gannets, and laughing gulls—that in turn feed in the ocean and coastal estuaries. species fly the Mississippi migration route each year, a major attraction for bird watchers, who flock to coastal Louisiana and Texas to catch a glimpse of migrating and resident shorebirds and nesting seabirds. Some of these birds feed on estuarine shrimp, fish, and crabs; others depend on shellfish and other small organisms that populate the expansive mudflats. Larger wading birds stalk their prey in the shallow water of mangroves, marshes, and other habitats that shelter fish and frogs. Raptors, including ospreys, bald eagles, and peregrine falcons, also pluck their prey from any of these environments and carry it to their perches. As the unprecedented volume of oil gushing from the Macondo blowout reached the surface, it had the potential to affect all of these marine and coastal ▯organisms and to wash into the salt marshes, mudflats, mangroves, and sandy beaches—each in its way an 176 National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore D▯rilling Oiled Sargassum Wildlife biologist Mark Dodd surveys a raft of oil-soaked sargassum, also▯ known as gulfweed. The floating beds are home to snails, shrimp, crabs, and other small creatures that—oiled or not—are ingested by▯ turtles, dolphins, tuna, and game fish. Blair Witherington/FWC 15 essential habitat at one or more stages of many species’ lifecycles. And these marine and coastal species are so interdependent that a significant effect on any one has the potential to disturb several existing populations in this complex food web. 16 Encountering oil. Organisms are exposed to oil through ingestion, filtration, inhalation, 17 absorption, and fouling. Predators may ingest oil while eating other oiled organisms or mistaking oil globules for food. Filter feeders—including some fish, oysters, shrimp, krill, jellyfish, corals, sponges, and whale sharks—will ingest minute oil p▯articles suspended in the water column. Surface-breathing mammals and reptiles surrounded by an oil slick may inhale oily water or its fumes. Birds are highly vulnerable to having their feathers 18 oiled, reducing their ability to properly regulate body temperature. Moderate to heavy external oiling of animals can inhibit their ability to walk, fly, swim, and eat. Similarly, oiling of plants can impede their ability to transpire and conduct photosynthesis, and oiling of coastal sediments can smother the plants they anchor and the m▯any organisms that live below. Americans watched as the oil eventually came to rest along intermittent stretches of the Gulf coast. Before it arrived, scientists rushed to collect crucial baseline data on coastal and water-column conditions. Some of the oil propelled up from the wellhead was dispersed by natural and chemical means (as described in Chapter 5), creating a deep-ocean plume of oil 19 droplets and dissolved hydrocarbons. A portion of the oil that rose to the surface was also naturally and chemically dispersed in the shallow water column. 20 The oil that made landfall was fairly “weathered,” consisting of emulsions of crude oil and depleted of its more volatile components. More than 650 miles of Gulf coastal habitats— National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore D▯rilling salt marsh, mudflat, mangroves, and sand beaches—were oiled; more than 130 miles have been designated as moderately to heavily oiled. Louisiana’s fragile delta habitats bore the brunt of the damage, with approximately 20 additional miles of Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida shorelines moderately to heavily oiled. Panama City, Florida. Except for occasional tarballs, Deepwater Horizon oil never reached Texas or the tourism centers along the southwest Florida coast. Assessing the mixture of oil and life at the water’s edge. The most biologically productive area along a sandy beach occurs where seaweed and other organic materials wash up just above the high tide line in the “wrack zone.” Here, shorebirds forage for insects and other small organisms. As oil moves onto a beach with the rising tide, it is deposited▯ in the wrack zone. Removing oiled wrack is the most prudent means of removing the oil—but doing so removes the living community, too. As the response to the spill proceeded, the Audubon Society evaluated wrack density along shorelines; it found that the wrack density on beaches east of the Mississippi River, where cleanup activities occurred, was “nearly absent,” indicating “diminished habitat quality.” Few beachgoers realize that millions of microscopic organisms live in the Gulf’s soggy sands between high and low tide. By comparing samples taken before and after beaches were oiled, Holly Bik of the University of New Hampshire’s Hubbard Center for Genome Studies, together with scientists at Auburn University and the University of Texas, hopes to determine the impact on this understudied community of sediment-dwelling microfauna. Tidal mudflats, generally devoid of vegetation and exposed at low tide, are more sensitive to pollutants than beaches. and Alabama have large expanses of tidal mudflats, which support dense populations of burrowing species (vulnerable to smothering), foraging birds, crabs, and other organisms. into the sediment layer (an ecological process called bioturbation), extending the potential damage below the surface. Salt marsh and mangroves are both highly productive and sensitive habitats. Marsh grasses tolerate surface coating by weathered oil fairly well, but they will die if oil penetrates the saturated sediments and is absorbed by the root system. happens, the plants’ root systems degrade, making the marsh much more susceptible to erosion and threatening the habitat on which a wide variety of animals depend. People and equipment deployed in response to the spill can themselves damage the marsh; for example, summer storms pushed boom (used to corral waterborne oil) deep into the marshes, from which it could only be removed by intrusive methods that caused additional harm to the marsh topography. growth during the summer of 2010—a positive sign that oil had not penet▯rated into the rich, organic soils and inhibited root systems. University’s Coastal Ecology Institute plans to study the effects of oil on the▯ local salt marshes for at least the next year. His preliminary observations, through the fall of 2010, indicate some stress resulting in loss of marsh along its edge, but the estimated loss “pal▯es 178 National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore D▯rilling in comparison” to the annual loss associated with dredging and flood protection (described in Chapter 7). 31 The marine impacts. When water temperatures warm in the late spring, female oysters release millions of eggs into the water column. The timing of the Macondo▯ oil spill may have been detrimental to oyster reproduction and the spawning of many other species. 32 Submerged oil floating in the nearshore water column poses potential threats to diverse shellfish and fish species. Although the impacts are not yet known, the presence of oil in the nearshore environment has been documented. Oil that reached the Gulf’s estuarine 33 waters forced closures of and likely damaged substantial tracts of Louisiana oyster beds. Oyster mortality observed in the highly productive areas of Barataria Bay and Breton Sound, estuaries that flank the lower Mississippi River, appear to be due, in large part, to the flood of fresh water introduced through river diversions in what many believe was a 34 futile attempt to keep oil from entering the estuarine areas. Beyond their commercial import, oysters are a keystone species—an organism that exerts a shaping, disproportionate influence on its habitat and community. A single adult oyster can filter more than one gallon of water per hour, effectively removing impurities— 36 including oil—from the water column. Oyster reefs established on an estuary’s muddy bottom can increase the surface area fifty-fold, creating intricate habitats for crabs, small 37 fish, and other animals, which in turn sustain larger species. Harriet Perry, Director of the Center for Fisheries Research and Development at the University of Southern Mississippi, and scientists at Tulane University are studying the potential effects of oil on larvae of blue crabs, another keystone species. The slick from the Macondo oil spill ultimately covered about 40 percent of the offshore area used by larvae of the northern Gulf’s estuarine-dependent species. 38 The Gulf coast’s blue crab population had already declined considerably during the past 8 to 10 years as a result of a regional drought. 39Perry and other scientists raced to take samples before the oil arrived and then after, hoping to be able to separate the oil-related impacts on wildlife from climate-related changes. 40 Many large fish species are dependent on the health of the estuarine and marine habitats and resources. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) noted that species with “essential fish habitat” 41 near the oil spill include scalloped hammerhead, shortfin mako, silky, whale, bigeye thresher, longfin mako, and oceanic whitetip sharks; and swordfish, white marlin, blue marlin, yellowfin tuna, bluefin tuna, longbill▯ spearfish, and sailfish. Other important Gulf fish include red snapper, gag grouper, gray triggerfish, red drum, vermilion snapper, greater amberjack, black drum, cobia and dolphin (mahi- mahi); coastal migratory open-water species, such as king and Spanish m▯ackerel; and 42 open-water sharks. Oil in the water column affects fish and other marine organisms through dermal contact, filtration, or ingestion. How much oil they accumulate depends on its co▯ncentration in food, water, and sediments they encounter, time and exposure, and the characteristics of each species—particularly the extent of their fatty tissue. Although oil is not very soluble National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore D▯rilling Voices from the Gulf “I have to make house payments and boat payments.” Claire Luby English skills no impediment to earning a living fishing and shrimping. ▯He had been a fisherman in Vietnam, and as he explained in his native language, “I grew up ne▯ar the sea and I’m used to eating seafood. I wanted to live where there’s lots of seafood.” H▯e and his wife had both worked on the water, and in recent years they had purchased two specially outfitted oysteri▯ng boats, in addition to two other boats used for gill fishing. They had loans to ▯repay. In 2009, when they had $80,000 in income from harvesting oysters, that was not a problem. T▯heir four children were grown, with one still at home. When Van Nguyen heard on television about the oil spill, he recalls, “I fel▯t that I was going crazy and was really worried that I can’t work anymore. I was afraid that t▯he oil would spread and people can’t eat what we catch so I wouldn’t be able to work. So I▯ was going through a mental crisis.” Louisiana has about 25,000 Vietnamese Americans. All through May, the Macondo well gushed oil as the government was closing Louisiana oy▯ster beds. Ve Van Nguyen and his wife both found interim work using their boats to inst▯all booms against the spreading oil slicks, as part of BP’s clean up. But he ma▯de nowhere near as much money as he would have harvesting oysters. Like so many others around th▯e Gulf, he said, “I worry about myself and my wife. I don’t know how we can make it▯.” He had received some BP payments, but wondered how long those would go on? “I have to make▯ house payments and boat payments.” At age 60, he was no longer young, but certainly▯ expected to continue oystering. But now, if BP does not compensate him for an amount similar to the lost income▯, “I can’t do anything except for applying for welfare and food stamps.”▯ He had had his four boats towed back to his house. The future? “Everyone is worried and scared ▯about that. They are scared of poisoning so we have to rely on the government to take care of▯ it. I don’t know what will happen.” 180 National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore D▯rilling Turtle in East Grande Terre Island, LA Sad testament to the spill, a sea turtle lies dead beside the black tide▯ that took its life along East Grand Terre Island in Louisiana. As of November 2010, the carcasses of more than 600 of the endangered reptiles▯ had been collected. Countless others undoubtedly perished. Benjamin Lowy/Edit by Getty Images in water, oil and lipids do mix very well, so high concentrations of petroleum can be found in the fat-rich tissues of the liver, brain, kidneys, and ovaries. Muscle generally has the lowest lipid concentrations, but fish with fatty flesh can accumulate mo▯re oil than leaner 43 species. Oil constituents can be transferred through the food chain: heavier hydrocarbons can be passed from water to phytoplankton and then to zooplankton, or from sediments to polychaete worms and eventually to fish. 44Because animals that are several steps up the food chain, like small fish, have the capability to metabolize hydrocarbons fairly rapidly, their predators will actually not accumulate much from eating them. Accordingly, bioaccumulation of toxic oil components does occur in fish, but biomagnification, with increasingly higher concentrations in animals at each level, does not occur. 45 It would be impossible to sample and assess each of the thousands of mar▯ine fish and other species inhabiting the open-ocean water column. But scientists monitoring the spill along the shorelines and aboard research vessels have sampled plankton, shellfish, fish, water, sediment, and other environmental media to better understand the potential impacts on all 46 terrestrial and marine organisms. Tens of thousands of samples have been collected. They will likely analyze the samples to determine concentrations of oil and dispersants, and combine that information with existing data on species populations and distributions to model the potential impact of contamination in the water column on diffe▯rent species. In addition, large fish—like bluefin tuna and whale sharks (the world’s largest fish)— mammals, and turtles are being tagged with tracking devices so scientists can follow National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore D▯rilling their movements in the hope of learning how they have been affected by the spill. overlaying maps of the extent of the oil spill, derived from satellite images from the European Space Agency, with simulations of bluefin tuna spawning grounds and models of larval development, the Ocean Foundation estimated that the spill could have affected 20 percent of the 2010 season’s population of bluefin tuna larvae, further placing at risk an already severely overfished species. Birds, mammals, turtles. Oiled birds are often the most visually disturbing and widely disseminated images associated with a major oil spill—as in the landm▯ark Santa Barbara accident of 1969. birds, 1,144 sea turtles, and 109 marine mammals affected by the spill—a▯live or dead, visibly oiled or not. the sheer size of the search area, many more specimens were not intercepted. scientists will assess the estimated total damage by applying a multipli▯er to the final observed number of casualties, and will likely issue separate estimates of sub-lethal effects and the impact of the spill on future populations. In September 28 testimony before the Commission, Jane Lyder, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Department of the Interior for Fish and Wildlife and Parks, said that “With more than 60 percent of the data verified, the three most affected [bird] species appear to be Brown Pelicans, Northern Gannets, and Laughing Gulls.” She added that “The fall migration is underway. Songbirds and shorebirds began their migration to the Gulf coast in July. Waterfowl began arriving in late August and early September. We know there are significant impacts to marsh and coastal wetland habitats along sections▯ of the Louisiana coast, particularly near Grand Isle, Louisiana. We are continuing to monitor what the full impact will be to migratory birds and other wildlife.” The potential impact on marine mammals and sea turtles is harder to assess. Tim Ragen, Executive Director of the federal Marine Mammal Commission, testifying before a House of Representatives subcommittee on June 10, 2010, could only conclude, “Unfo▯rtunately, the scientific foundation for evaluating the potential effects of the Deepwater Horizon spill on many marine mammals inhabiting the Gulf is weak.” According to NOAA, “Of the 28 species of marine mammals known to live in the Gulf of Mexico, all are protected, and six (sperm, sei, fin, blue, humpback and North Atlantic right whales) are listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act.” Also of note, “At least four species of threatened/endangered sea turtles (Kemp’s ridley, green, leatherback, and loggerhead) are residents of the northern Gulf of Mexico and are represented by all life stages. A fifth species, the hawksbill turtle, can be found in the south▯ern Gulf. The only nesting beaches in the world for Kemp’s ridley turtles are in the western Gulf of Mexico.” As of November 1, the Unified Area Command reported that nine marine mammals had been collected alive (and three were released). though only four of those were visibly oiled. Most of the marine mammal mortalities were bottlenose dolphins. Also among the dead was one juvenile sperm whale; it was found floating more than 70 miles from the source of the spill, reportedly unoiled 600 dead sea turtles were collected. 182 National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore D▯rilling Deepwater plumes of dispersed oil. The highly visible damage to wildlife aside, public and scientific concern about the Deepwater Horizon spill—at unprecedented water depths— has for some time focused on the impacts of an invisible subsurface “▯plume,” or more accurately “clouds” of minute oil droplets moving slowly over the seabed. As of November 59 2010, three independent, peer-reviewed studies confirmed the presence of a deepwater plume of highly dispersed oil droplets and dissolved gases at between 3,200 and 4,200 feet deep and extending for many miles, primarily to the southwest of the wellhead. How will such substances affect the deepwater environment? One concern centered on decomposition and the resulting depletion of the oxygen supply on which aquatic species depend. Bacterial decomposition begins quickly for the light hyd▯rocarbon gases, propane and ethane, but more slowly for the heavier hydrocarbons typically present in a liquid form and for the predominant gas, methane. The blooms of bacteria stimulated by lighter hydrocarbons prime the populations for degradation of other hydrocarbons. The degradation rates are sufficient to reduce the dissolved oxygen concentrations in the plume, but not to harmfully low levels associated with dead zones, where aquatic species cannot survive. 60 Subsequent mixing with adjacent, uncontaminated waters by slow-flowing currents appears to have been sufficient to prevent any further depletion of dissolved oxygen in the aging plumes. 61These findings do not rule out potential impacts 62 of deepwater oil and dispersant concentrations on individual species. Chemical analyses of water samples taken from the established deepwater plume in May 2010 suggest that hydrocarbon concentrations were high enough at the time to cause acute toxicity to exposed organisms, 63although concentrations declined over several miles from the well as the plume mixed with the surrounding water. Federal scientists have estimated that about 15 percent of the oil escaping the wellhead was physically dispersed by the fluid turbulence around the flow of oil and gas. The deepwater plume would have formed even if chemical dispersants had not been injected at the wellhead. But the addition of 18,379 barrels of dispersants to the discharging oil and gas stream may have increased the volume of oil in the deepwater plumes to a degree comparable to that from physical dispersion alone. 64As of late 2010, there have been unconfirmed reports of oil deposited on the seafloor in the vicinity of the Macondo w▯ell. 65 If confirmed by chemical analyses, this would not be particularly surprising beca▯use oil droplets can become entrained in denser particulate matter, including the flocks of organic matter (referred to by scientists as “marine snow”) that characterize open-ocean waters, and settle on the ocean floor. There have also been recent reports of dead or dying deepwater corals living on rock outcrops that could have been impinged by the deep plumes. 66 Because the Deepwater Horizon spill was unprecedented in size, location, and duration, 67 deepwater ecosystems were exposed to large volumes of oil for an extended period. It will take further investigation and more time to assess the impacts on these ecosystems, their extent and duration. Unfortunately, except for studies that have focused on rare and specialized communities associated with rocky outcrops or seeps, scientific understanding of the deepwater Gulf ecosystem has not advanced with the industrial dev▯elopment of 68 deepwater drilling and production. National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore D▯rilling Figure 6.1: Assessment Categories for Natural Resource Damage Assessment▯ WATER COLUMN AND SEDIMENTS • Water quality surveys • Transect surveys to • Oil plume modeling • Sediment sampling This figure represents the various natural resource categories being ass▯essed as part of the Deepwater Horizon Natural Resource Damage Assessment. Such an assessment, which always follows an oil spill, is us▯ed to make the public whole for ecological damages caused by a spill. This graphic illustrates the three-dimensional challenges that an▯ assessment of a deep sea blowout presents. NOAA (adapted) Natural Resource Damage Assessment The federal Oil Pollution Act (OPA or the Act) creates a process for assessing the damages caused by an oil spill and then the expenditure of monies collected to address those damages. To that end, the Act formally designates “natural resource trustees,” who are responsible for assessing the “natural resources damages” of the spill. trustees accordingly prepare a “natural resource damage assessment” that seeks to quantify oil-spill damages to: (1) public natural resources; (2) the services they provide (e.g., oysters provide water filtration); and (3) the public’s lost use of those resources. spill, NOAA and the Department of the Interior are leading the effort as trustees on behalf of the federal government. affected military property along the Gulf coast. by natural resource trustees from the five Gulf States. Identifying and quantifying damages, particularly where complex ecosystems are involved, present enormous challenges. Developing sound sampling protocols that cover adequate time scales, teasing out the effects of other environmental disturbances, and scaling the damages to the appropriate restoration projects often takes considerable time. A typical damage assessment can take years. Two sets of determinations—one concerning the baseline conditions against which damages to each species or habitat wil▯l be assessed and 184 National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore D▯rilling another concerning the quantification of those damages—are particularly difficult and consequential in terms of the overall results. The goal of a natural resource damage assessment is “to make the environment and 74 public whole for injuries to natural resources and services resulting from [an oil spill].” The injury is quantified by reference to baseline conditions: “the condition of the natural 75 resources and services that would have existed had the incident not occurred.” But making this determination is often inherently difficult and highly contentious. Without well-established baseline conditions, there can be inaccurate quantification of damages or required restoration. Given that the ecological baseline can vary seasonally, annually, and over much longer time scales, it can be difficult to pinpoint the exact condition of an ecosystem prior to a spill. Because long-term historical data are often nonexistent or discontinuous, natural resource trustees are likely to be disadvantaged by a lack of sufficient information to fully characterize the condition of relevant ecosystems prior to the incident in question. 76 As OPA regulations indicate, “baseline” for purposes of damage assessment ▯is generally 77 considered to be the condition of the resource just prior to the spill. The precise application of this definition has particular importance in the Gulf of ▯Mexico context, where many coastal habitats have been substantially degraded over decades—▯even centuries—under the pressure of ever-expanding industrial, commercial, and residential development. The natural resource damage assessment regulations, as generally applied, require that BP and other potentially responsible parties restore Gulf resources to their functioning level as of April 19, 2010—by which point the Gulf ecosys▯tem in April 2010 was already weakened. 78In this context, effective long-term restoration will require the stabilization and eventual reversal of a number of long-standing, damaging trends. The effort to thoroughly address the ecological impacts of this historic pollution event is unprecedented in scale. Thousands of samples have been collected from dozens of research cruises. Hundreds of miles of coastline have been observed and sampled. 79Marine mammals and turtles are being obser
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