National Research Council Assessing Deepwater Spill

The Natural Resource Damage Assessment process (NRDA) is part of the Oil Pollution Act of 1990. The Oil Pollution Act was passed after the Exxon Valdez oil tanker ran aground in Alaska, spilling at least 11 million gallons in Prince William Sound (critics believe this Exxon-provided spill estimate is a significant underestimate).  The NRDA process is designed to “make the public whole” after an oil spill or hazardous substance release by precisely calculating damages to environmental services and developing a plan to rehabilitate, restore, replace or acquire the equivalent environmental services.

One of my biggest concerns with an oil spill as large as the 204 million gallon Deepwater disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, is that the types and complexity of short and long-term environmental impacts will prevent public agencies from making a complete assessment of damages.  Essentially that the public – and especially the environment – won’t be made whole.

This was one of the reasons Defenders of Wildlife worked closely with Senator David Vitter (R-Louisiana) and Senate offices to secure funding for the National Research Council to help ensure Deepwater damages get measured correctly.  As part of Emergency Supplemental Disaster Relief signed into law on August 2nd, a key amendment was passed that provides the National Research Council with $1 million from the Department of Commerce budget.  This funding is being used to bring together scientists expert in resource assessments and ecosystem services evaluation who will form a Committee to advise agencies on the best methodologies and technologies with which to assess difficult to quantify damages.  Knowing that timing is important, the Committee’s first report will be available within 6 months.

A second phase of the Committee’s work will take place over 2 years and is a more comprehensive effort to actually provide a second set of estimates of natural resource damages, also using the best existing and new science to accurately measure the damages caused by BP’s Deepwater well blowout.

This month NOAA and the National Research Council (NRC) agreed on a ‘scope of work’ for the study which you can find here.  Now that the scoping document has been finalized, the Ocean Studies Board of the NRC is taking nominations of expert scientists to serve on the 12-member Committee that will implement this study.

If you are an expert in ecosystem service valuation or know one who would be willing to be nominated, please consider participating on this Committee whose work will have a lasting influence on the restoration of Gulf ecosystems.

This post was written by:

- who has written 17 posts on dotWild.

Tim Male is Vice President for Conservation at Defenders of Wildlife. Tim directs a number of Defenders’ conservation policy programs, including Habitat and Highways, Conservation Planning, Federal Lands, Oregon Biodiversity Partnership, and Economics.

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