Deepwater Horizon 2 years on
The dolphins are preserved in giant freezers in marine labs across America. Tagged, catalogued, carefully guarded – and suspended in liquid nitrogen for the moment when they will determine BP’s final bill for the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster, which started two years ago.
The dolphins, among more than 700 that have washed up on Gulf shores since the last two years, are a crucial component of the investigation now underway to decide the cost to BP of restoring the wildlife and environment damaged by the biggest offshore spill in US history.
The carcasses were collected – on at least one occasion by armed federal officials, and generally with witnesses from BP – from marine science facilities on the Gulf coast and transported to labs across the country. Scientists are evaluating their tissue for evidence of exposure to hydrocarbons from the runaway well, as part of the lengthy process of accounting for environmental damage to the Gulf.
At its most basic, the process now consuming teams of BP and government scientists and lawyers revolves around this: How much is a dolphin worth, and how exactly did it die?
How much lasting harm was done by the oil that still occasionally washes up on beaches, or remains as splotches on the ocean floor near the site of BP’s broken well? What can be done to turn the clock back, and restore the wildlife and environment to levels that would have existed if there had not been a spill?
Wednesday’s proposed $7.8bn settlement between BP and more than 100,000 people suing for economic damages due takes the oil company a step closer to consigning the spill to the past. BP is moving towards a settlement with the federal government and the governments of Louisiana and Mississippi. It could also face criminal charges.
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