I’m worried about the future of the Gulf Coast.

Information about the effects of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Disaster, and the future of the Gulf Coast.

The Gulf Coast has weathered many storms, floods and industrial disasters, proving to be a resilient environment, which is home to strong and determined people. Some of the problems facing the area include land loss, wetland deterioration, habitat loss, decreasing biodiversity, tropical storms and hurricanes, the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill disaster and uncertainty about the future. Despite these hardships coastal residents, community based organizations, and non-profits have committed themselves to creating a sustainable future for the Gulf Coast. The federal government has released significant documents which outline this national commitment as well. Coast 2050 is a pre-Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, long-term plan for a sustainable coast. The recently released document, “Restore the Gulf: A Long-term Recovery Plan After the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill” provides information about on-going federal response to the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Disaster. Federally recognized Native American tribal representatives are participating in the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Task Force, lead by Lisa P. Jackson, the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling was formed by President Obama through Executive Order 13543 on May 21, 2010. They recent released their Final Report on January 11, 2011. This 400+ page document includes recommendations about increasing drilling safety, safeguarding the environment, strengthening oil spill prevention and response and restoring the Gulf Coast.

Greater New Orleans, Inc. recently released the A Study of the Economic Impact of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill examining the potential effects of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Disaster on the regional economy of Louisiana. This study is part one in a three part series; part two will examine the effects of the deep water drilling moratorium and the third part will analyze the status of the Louisiana brand. This first document details the physical dynamics of a deepwater spill, including the diverse clean up methods. Chapter two predicts the ecological effects of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Disaster on species critical to the fishing and seafood industries, and the financial repercussions. The study then places these estimates in context of the influx of claims and Vessel of Opportunity payments, adjusting financial losses accordingly. The final chapter summarizes GNO, Inc.’s recent focus group project with coastal fishermen who discussed their plans for the future.

Members of GNO, Inc. also contributed to America’s Energy Coast: Secure the Gulf Project, which was sponsored by America’s Wetland Foundation and outlines strategies for preventing the loss of national coastal resources.

The Gulf Coast has a rich history and a culture that is vital to the entire nation. Louisiana fishermen have often worked their whole lives as stewards of this culture. GNO, Inc.’s recent Fisheries Focus Groups revealed that fishermen are disaster veterans. Having persevered through so many disasters, it is difficult for many commercial fishermen to accept the gravity of this one. That’s not to say that they aren’t acutely aware of the possibilities of total loss, but they are in no rush to accept the worst-case scenario. Fishermen do not believe that commercial fishing could be over in Louisiana.

The biological realities; however, are still a great unknown. Greater New Orleans, Inc. presents a hypothetical scenario based on the most current ecological data in the first chapter of the Study of the Economic Impact of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. We expect these results to be modified as more scientific data becomes available.  The U.S. Geological Survey, the U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, the Environmental Protection Agency, and many other agencies and organizations provide up-to-date data on the current testing and studies regarding the ecological impacts of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. Very few of these groups present hypothetical future situations. The 1989 Exxon-Valdez spill in Alaska can provide us with some information about the possible future impacts on fish and wildlife following a large-scale oil spill. A 2003 article in Scientific American explains that ecosystems are still suffering—with mussel beds taking up to an estimated thirty years to renew themselves. An article in Science Daily supports these findings and calls for improved water quality monitoring systems. A team of scientists, headed by Charles H. Peterson, published “Long-Term Ecosystem Response to the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill” in Science which provides a comprehensive review of academic publishing’s on the biological impacts of the Exxon-Valdez spill. Greater New Orleans, Inc. is partnering with the South Louisiana Economic Council (SLEC) to develop economic recovery strategies for the long-term sustainability of the Gulf Coast.

While these studies can be very valuable, it is important to note that the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill’s effects are unique, both because of the natural environment it interacts with and the new clean-up methods used. Very few studies have been done on the effect of chemical dispersants on wetland ecology. GNO, Inc. found in the recent Fisheries Focus Groups that many fishermen were  more worried about the effect of dispersants than oil. One participant in Lafitte said “We’ve had oil naturally seeping into the Gulf for centuries. There are natural organisms that will deal with it. But these dispersants… that’s what could destroy the fisheries”. There was also broad agreement that there is much more oil under the water that can’t be seen, and it’s unknown how much of that will enter the estuaries. Oil under the water was also expected to heavily impact trawling since dragging trawl doors along the oil-soaked sea floor will destroy product and equipment.

Many environmental groups have focused their efforts on the Gulf Coast. The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and organization that has been working to champion environmental causes since 1967 through sound science, economic incentives, corporate partnerships and legislation and policy initiatives. Their Restoration and Resilience blog is dedicated to supporting the Gulf Coast following the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. For weekly updates about the state of coastal Louisisna, EDF offers free, online subscriptions to their “Delta Dispatches” newsletter.  The National Resource Defense Council (NRDC) has also established a drop-in center in Buras, LA as an on-the-ground resource and gathering space for communities affected by the BP oil disaster. The Delta Working Group (DWG) is a coalition of over seventy academics, scientists, non-profit leaders, artists, and representatives of the seafood industry living and working in the Greater New Orleans region.  DWG has launched a web portal, www.oilspilldonation.org, to facilitate donations for local non-profit organizations engaged in direct service and monitoring activity in response to the British Petroleum Offshore Drilling Disaster (BPODD).

In the wake of the BP oil disaster, steps are being taken to protect the future of the Gulf Coast. The Louisiana State Court of Appeal, in June 2011, ordered the State Department of Environmental Quality to test the environmental impact of discharges from produced waters from oil and gas production activities within Louisiana territorial waters in the Gulf of Mexico. The Louisiana Environmental Action Network (LEAN) alleges that dangerous amounts of radioactive material are released into the Gulf waters when commercial oil and gas discharges of deck drainage, produced water, well treatment and workover fluids, hydrostatic test and other waste waters related to exploration, development and production by oil and gas companies are dumped directly into the sea.