BP President: Along the Gulf Coast, Resilience and Signs of Recovery
As we approach four years since the Deepwater Horizon accident, memories of that day, the tragic loss of eleven lives, and the difficult time that followed remain vivid for BP and many along the Gulf Coast. But this year has also has brought new evidence of the progress the Gulf Coast and its people have made, and the resilience they have demonstrated in the face of those who doubted the region could recover.
Consider the region's tourism industry. Only four years ago, a national newspaper reported that Gulf Coast tourism could suffer "up to $23 billion of losses" and take years to recover from the accident. This prediction has not come to pass. In fact, data from 2011-2013 shows that many areas along the Gulf Coast have experienced record-breaking tourism numbers. The Alabama Gulf Coast broke its tourism record for the third consecutive year in 2013. In Florida, Gov. Rick Scott has pointed out the Sunshine State's "record gains" in tourism in 2013 and predicted that 2014 was on track to be "another record year." In New Orleans, Mayor Mitch Landrieu recently celebrated what the Times-Picayune called the Big Easy's "booming year" in 2013 – which also saw the city named one of the 21 must-see destinations in the world by National Geographic Traveler.
A similar rebound can be seen in another of the region's most vital industries – fishing. According to preliminary data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), recreational fishing landings in the Gulf in the first 10 months of 2013 were 31% higher than the average over the same period in 2007-2009. NOAA data also show commercial seafood landings in the Gulf in 2011 reached their highest levels since 2002. BP has helped support the seafood industry by paying or committing to pay $82 million to Alabama, Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi for state-led seafood testing and marketing programs.
As for the Gulf's environment, BP is working with state and federal Trustees to assess and restore natural resources injured as a result of the accident. The company has paid around $1 billion to date to support the Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) process and to evaluate potential injuries and restoration options, and committed another $1 billion in an unprecedented early restoration agreement. While detailed analysis and interpretation of NRDA data continue, a number of published studies based on responsible science are available, and the observations are encouraging. Just last week, a study published by Auburn University researchers found no evidence that the spill impacted young Red Snapper populations on reefs off the Alabama coast.
In the four years since the accident, BP has spent approximately $27 billion in claims payments and response, cleanup, and restoration costs. No company has done more to help a region recover after an industrial accident.
As a result of these efforts, active cleanup operations in the Gulf ended this week. While this is a significant milestone, BP has not left the Gulf, and we will keep resources in place to respond quickly at the Coast Guard's direction if potential Macondo oil is identified through the National Response Center process and requires removal.
Unfortunately, some advocacy groups refuse to acknowledge evidence of the Gulf's recovery. In some ways, that's not surprising. The more progress the Gulf makes, the harder it becomes for these groups to use the Deepwater Horizon accident to raise money for their causes – many of which long predate the accident, such as stopping the erosion of coastal marshlands.
In order to mitigate any environmental impacts that may remain, we must measure them, using rigorous scientific methods – not conjecture. And to measure them accurately, we must also know the condition the resources were in before the accident. That's what sound science is all about.
Carrying out this work – and reaching solid, evidence-based conclusions – will take time. What's clear, however, is that with the help of Gulf Coast residents, businesses and the tireless efforts of thousands of others, many of the worst economic and environmental fears of four years ago have not come to pass.
- John Mingé is chairman and president of BP America, Inc.
As appeared in the Huntsville Times, April 17, 2014.