10 Years after Deepwater Horizon: A Statement from the​ Natural Resource Damage Assessment Trustee Council


Today marks ten years since the Deepwater Horizon oil spill occurred. The rig explosion led to the largest marine oil spill in American history and caused the loss of 11 men and injury to 17 others. For months, millions of barrels of oil flowed into the Gulf of Mexico. Many coastal communities were severely impacted. In these trying times, we recognize the human cost of the oil spill, and continue to extend our deepest condolences to those whose loved ones were lost or otherwise injured. 

On this day, we, the Deepwater Horizon Natural Resource Damage Assessment Trustees, want to provide an update on our efforts over the past decade to restore natural resources across the Gulf of Mexico. From ensuring our restoration efforts benefit multiple resources of the ecosystem to leveraging funds for maximum efficiencies, we are utilizing settlement funds to address the injuries to the Gulf of Mexico and its coastal areas.

Immediately after the spill, we worked around the clock to assess the damages to the Gulf’s natural resources. During that assessment we began developing ideas for restoration projects that would address, not only the injuries, but also the loss of “services” the natural resources provide, such as recreational use. In addition, the extent and magnitude of the injuries led us to understand that rather than focusing on discrete projects, we needed to approach restoration from an ecosystem perspective.

We also recognized the need for monitoring and adaptive management of our restoration activities. Taking action in the immediate term was vital to setting the Gulf on the path to recovery. And, because this will be a long-term process, monitoring and adaptive management will allow us to adjust our approach to achieve the most effective results.

To accelerate the recovery of the ecosystem, BP agreed to provide up to $1 billion for early restoration activities beginning in April 2011. With those early restoration funds, we immediately got to work and ultimately approved 65 projects with a combined cost of approximately $875 million. Examples include $320 million for four barrier island projects on Louisiana’s coast, as well as marsh creation projects in Barataria Basin, which was the area most heavily impacted by the spill. Additionally, a multi-state $45 million project is benefiting sea turtles by enhancing nest protection and stranding response, and engaging the shrimp fishing industry to reduce sea turtle bycatch and understand why and when it’s occurring.

In 2016, the historic BP settlement required the company to pay up to $8.8 billion, including the early restoration funds, over 15 years – the largest ever for natural resource injuries. At that time, in addition to our work on early restoration projects, we transitioned to a full-scale restoration effort.

Our Work to Restore the Gulf of Mexico

Our post-settlement work is organized and conducted as Trustee Implementation Groups where Trustees work together to propose and implement restoration projects within their respective restoration areas. These groups bring in partners and funding from other sources, when possible, to enhance restoration projects’ scope and effectiveness. In the ten years since the spill, approximately 200 projects have been approved to restore injured Gulf resources. The combined estimated cost of these projects is $1.4 billion.

In the first decade since the spill, we have made significant progress restoring resources, such as recreational use, water quality, living coastal and marine resources, and wetlands, coastal, and nearshore habitats. These restoration types are described in detail in our programmatic restoration plan.    

These efforts build upon our ecosystem approach to restoring the Gulf. For example, many of our projects are designed to benefit multiple restoration types. Projects that restore coastal marshes may also benefit wildlife, improve water quality, and enhance recreational opportunities. Additionally, a beach project that enhances recreational access to beaches may also educate visitors about the local birds and their nests.

We are also restoring resources in multiple locations across the Gulf. For example, we have oyster reef projects in the waters off each of the five Gulf States. We are restoring habitats for migratory birds and sea turtles in multiple locations from barrier islands to the beaches that line the Gulf Coast. We have restoration projects for wetlands, coastal, and nearshore habitats and for improving water quality across the Gulf. And, we're continuing restoration of resources and habitats offshore in the Gulf, including new projects for marine mammals, deep-sea habitats, fish, and sea turtles. 

To make the most of these efforts, we work hard to leverage funding from other sources and strive to engage other restoration partners. For example, the McFaddin Beach and Dune Restoration in eastern Texas funded by Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA), the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund, RESTORE, the state, and the county. In addition, there are several projects intended to restore an adjacent salt marsh project funded by the Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund. This collaboration has increased the restoration footprint and reaps far greater environmental benefits.

Through coordination across funding sources, we are leveraging resources and will be able to accomplish more than would be possible with NRDA settlement funds alone.

As restoration planning has progressed through the years, the Trustees have developed guidance documents to act as roadmaps. Examples include the strategic frameworks for birds, marine mammals, oysters, and sea turtles as well as guidance for monitoring and adaptive management.

Looking Ahead

We are committed to restoring the natural resources of the Gulf of Mexico for years to come. We will strive to maintain our rapid rate of progress and number of workers on the job, even as we focus additional attention on safe practices in light of the current public health situation. As we implement restoration projects, it is imperative that we manage them well and monitor their success. This monitoring and adaptive management evaluates the success of current projects and adapts them, as needed, to ensure that we maximize resource restoration. We can also use our monitoring information for future projects to improve their results.

Restoration does not happen overnight, but through careful design, successful implementation, and robust monitoring, we are confident that the wetlands, coastal, and nearshore habitats, water quality, living coastal and marine resources, and recreational use will be restored. Stay informed on our restoration efforts, including the annual progress and financial reports to be released in June by visiting our website at www.gulfspillrestoration.noaa.gov.