The Environmental Law Institute makes law work for people, places, and the planet through community-based education and environmental problems research.
In the Gulf of Mexico, ELI is supporting the health and resilience of coastal communities and ecosystems impacted by the lasting legacies of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster. Over the past ten years, we have worked with local and national partners to demystify the legal actions and funding mechanisms that emerged in response to the spill, develop easy-to-use informational materials, and host training sessions around the region.
On April 10, 2010, less than 50 miles off the Louisiana coast, the Macondo well suffered a catastrophic blowout. The ensuing explosion and fire destroyed the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, killing 11 men and sending more than three million barrels of oil into the Gulf over nearly three months. Oil flowed within deep ocean currents hundreds of miles away from the blown-out well and oil slicks extended across more than 43,000 square miles, affecting water quality and exposing aquatic plants and wildlife. Oil was deposited onto at least 400 square miles of the seafloor and washed up onto more than 1,300 miles of shoreline from Texas to Florida.
The spill damaged and temporarily closed fisheries vital to the Gulf economy, oiled hundreds of miles of beaches, coastal wetlands, marshes, and killed thousands of birds and other marine wildlife, among other ecological and economic injuries. That fall, ELI began a project to help Gulf Coast communities recover from the disaster's damage, and we've continued this project for the last decade.
Several federal and state processes focus on recovering the Gulf from the disaster. Under criminal plea agreements and a 2016 civil settlement among BP, the U.S. government, and the five Gulf states (Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas), around $16.67 billion was earmarked to restore the region. Since public participation is critical to a successful restoration, our goal is to ensure Gulf Coast communities provide meaningful input for these processes, including underserved communities, people of color, and working fisherfolk. To achieve this goal, we are striving to help them understand the different processes initiated, their purposes and potential impacts, and how organizations and individuals can get involved.
Since 2010, ELI has carried out this mission. From tracking restoration funding to producing reports and fact sheets, ELI works to showcase the allocation of money spent so far (around $4.6 billion as of March 2020) and what remains to be spent (around $12 billion). We have also worked with our vast network of local, regional, and national partners to develop informational materials and host training sessions and webinars. During the 2020 pandemic, these outreach efforts have fully transitioned to virtual spaces.
With our national presence and regional focus, ELI's Gulf Program links federal agency action to restoration needs on the ground. Our role as a trusted, nonpartisan source of law and policy information has allowed us to enable Gulf communities to advance their own restoration projects, participate in and monitor the various funding processes, and have their voices heard.