Disaster Cleanup Louisiana, BP Part Deux.

Disaster Cleanup Louisiana, BP Part Deux.

Phase Two of a three-part trial to decide how much money BP will owe the government in Clean Water Act fines is scheduled to commence on September 30th. The range could be anywhere from five to seventeen billion, with millions going to Lafourche and Terrebonne Parish for coastal restoration and protection efforts.

Eighty percent of the fines will go into a national fund called the Gulf Coast Restoration Trust Fund, where it will then be broken down further and allocated among the five coastal states affected by the spill in 2010. Of that 80 percent, 35 percent will be split up equally among the states, with Louisiana’s allotment being further broken down by the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, which will receive 70 percent of that amount and then divide the remaining 30 percent among the parishes affected by the spill, using a formula that factors in population, land mass, and miles of shoreline affected by the spill.

While the overall intention of the payout is to fund coastal restoration and hurricane protection projects, it is important to remember that the environment was not the only thing damaged by the spill. The moratorium on offshore drilling that went into effect after the spill impacted every industry negatively, both statewide and across the nation.

When the entire Gulf Coast was shut down, our country’s economy also stalled in what was already a recessive period, and so the money that actually makes it directly to the parishes from the oil spill settlement will put us in the best position for economic restoration and development.

These new parish funds, in keeping with the Restore Act, can be used to boost workforces and job creation, to promote the seafood and tourism industries, and to fund infrastructural projects to enhance our economy and ecological resources, including the remodeling and expansion of ports like Fourchon, which is already undergoing a rapid rate of revamp and bulkhead expansion projects. But the biggest question is when these funds will actually become available for the parishes to put these plans into action. One popular “optimistic” estimate is that the trial and appeals process should be concluded in about three years, but let us not forget that the much smaller Exxon-Valdez spill took over 20 years to resolve!

Despite the uncertainty of the great parish payday, plans are already being put together for using the money, with parish representatives promising that their “wish lists” are only as big as the money allows. Among the projects considered are road development plans, port development projects, and plans to add, enhance, or replace existing pump stations. BP has already taken some efforts to improve the economy and infrastructure of southeast Louisiana, including the new addition to Fletcher Community Technical College—the Integrated Production Technologies facility—located right next door to BP’s Houma Operations Learning Center.

BP donated half of the cost of the new facility, which seeks to train new petrotechnical workers to fill the increasing demand for skilled workers in the industry. With evidence of dramatic growth in the oil and gas industry in the Gulf Coast since the moratorium was lifted, it seems likely that this demand will continue to increase, so long as the fines are resolved in a timely manner and we can use this opportunity to move forward with better engineering and infrastructures for both our environment and the economy.