Four years after Deepwater Horizon spill, new report says the impacts are bad and might get worse

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Four years after the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded, sending more than 200 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, wildlife is still struggling there.

That's the upshot from the new report, "Four Years Into the Gulf Oil Disaster: Still Waiting for Restoration," published by the National Wildlife Federation on Tuesday.

"Four years later, wildlife in the Gulf is still feeling the impacts of the spill," said Doug Inkley, senior scientist for the NWF. “Bottlenose dolphins in oiled areas are still sick and dying and the evidence is stronger than ever that these deaths are connected to the Deepwater Horizon. The science is telling us that this is not over.”

The report is a "useful" compilation of some of the limited release of information on 14 different species in the Gulf, Inkley said, adding that frankly it's still difficult to truly understand the impact of what happened four years ago. Much research still needs to be conducted, he said, but a lot of the science remains under wraps as the BP trial continues. 

Other revelations in the report: 

There is strong evidence that the ongoing illness of dolphins in a heavily oiled section of Louisiana is related to oil exposure.
Roughly five hundred dead sea turtles have been found every year for the past three years in the area affected by the spill—a dramatic increase over normal rates.
Oyster reproduction remained low over large areas of the northern Gulf at least through the fall of 2012.
A chemical in oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill has been shown to cause irregular heartbeats in bluefin and yellowfin tuna that can lead to heart attacks, or even death.
Loons that winter on the Louisiana coast have increasing concentrations of toxic oil compounds in their blood.
Sperm whales in the Gulf of Mexico have higher levels of DNA-damaging metals than sperm whales elsewhere in the world—metals that were present in oil from BP’s well.

“The Kemp’s ridley sea turtle has long been the poster child for the possibilities of restoration in the Gulf,” said Pamela Plotkin, associate research professor of oceanography at Texas A&M University and director of Texas Sea Grant. “Once close to extinction, it has rebounded dramatically over the past thirty years. But four years ago, the numbers of Kemp’s ridley appear to have flatlined. We need to monitor this species carefully, as the next few years will be critical.”

The report lays out clearly that deleterious effects in the Gulf to native species will continue to unfold for years, if not longer. Inkley referenced the fact that is now been 25 years since the Exxon Valdez spill in Prince William Sound in Alaska, where clams, mussels, and killer whales are still considered to be “recovering,” and the Pacific herring population, commercially harvested before the spill, is showing few signs of recovery.

The report also lays out four recommendations to advance the restoration of the Gulf of Mexico. They are:

1) Federal, state and local officials must commit funds from Clean Water Act fines in the 2010 Gulf oil disaster to
    ecological restoration, thereby making the Gulf healthier and more resilient for people and wildlife.

2) The Department of Justice must hold parties responsible for the Deepwater Horizon spill fully accountable for
     gross negligence and willful misconduct in violation of federal environmental laws, including the Clean Water
     Act.
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3) Final settlement of claims must include a “reopener clause” to hold responsible parties accountable for future
    damages that may occur but are not yet known, as the Oil Pollution Act requires full compensation for all natural
    resource damages.

4) Congress and the Administration must reform oil and gas leasing practices and permitting requirements to
    better safeguard people, communities, wildlife and the environment.

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