LAKE CHARLES, LA—It is well-known as one of the greatest environmental catastrophies to ever strike the continental U.S., if not the world. The Deepwater Horizon drilling rig explosion, better known as the BP oil spill, began on April 20, 2010. It became the largest offshore spill in U.S. history.
Arguably, the massive oily assault on the Louisiana coastline may not have been all bad.
"I wouldn't call it a good thing, but there is a silver lining," said David Muth, a New Orleans native who has spent a lifetime in the Mississippi River delta and on the Louisiana coast, studying its geology, ecology, plants, wildlife, history and culture.
Muth was part of a panel discussion at the Southeastern Outdoor Press Association conference in Lake Charles, La. Muth works for the National Wildlife Federation and is the director of the Mississippi River Delta Restoration program.
Muth was joined by Bob Dew, director of development for the Louisiana chapter of Ducks Unlimited, and Sidney Coffee, who serves as senior advisor to the America’s Wetland Foundation. The trio shared with outdoor writers the windfall settlements of billions of dollars coming to Louisiana for restoration efforts. Billions in criminal assessments have already been decided. The trial is underway now to detemine how many billions in civil penalites will have to be paid. And in addition to the final tally of payoffs from BP, new laws dictate that Louisiana will soon be receiving 35 percent of the royalties from the oil industry where, in the past, the state only received five percent.
The problem facing government, industry and environmental groups is exactly how to spend it all.
It is not only the oil that has taken a toll on the Louisiana coast. Huge hurricanes such as Katrina and others have ripped away shoreline and destroyed tidal marshes. Of course that's been happening since time began. Now humans have altered the Mississippi River and manipulated the marsh land to the point that the Louisiana coastline can no longer rebuild itself.
The state has lost 1,900 square miles of coastline sine the 1930's. That is basically Marion, Hamilton, Bradley and Polk counties completely gone, washed away like a sand castle in a rising tide.
"We're losing the equivalent of a football field every 20 minutes. We're fighting the clock right now," said Coffee.
But why should you care?
"People in Iowa and every other state should care about this fight," Coffee said. "Twenty-five percent of the oil and gas consumed in the nation comes through these fragile wetlands by tanker, barge, or pipeline. More than 30 percent of the nation's fisheries comes from these wetlands. This is the wintering habitat for more than 5 million waterfowl and migratory birds."
Coastal restoration is much more than trying to repair the impact of one oil spill. The trio says it will take massive cooperation of government, industry and private citizens to figure out how to accomplish a huge task.
But now at least, thanks to the BP oild spill, they will have some serious money to begin the process.
Richard Simms is a contributing writer, focusing on outdoor sports.
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