BP needs to make the oyster beds right


Louisiana officials say that BP agreed last November to negotiate early payments to rebuild oyster beds and wetlands damaged in the oil spill and help pay for a fish hatchery to address the collapse of commercial fisheries.

But none of that has happened, and now state officials say they believe the oil giant is reneging on promises it made. If so, that’s infuriating. BP shouldn’t be trying to wiggle out of paying for damage done by the Deepwater Horizon disaster. No matter how the company tries to spin it, all these projects are related to the spill and are needed for Louisiana to recover from the economic and environmental destruction that BP’s broken well caused.

The state is trying to scrape together money to get the projects started, with plans to present BP the bill after the fact. But upfront help from BP would allow Louisiana to get a more meaningful start on these critical projects.

When it comes to the oyster beds, Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Director Robert Barham said the company seems to be shifting its strategy from public relations to litigation. “Their response today was that we see no evidence of oil injuring the oysters,” he said.

That’s simply ridiculous. While it’s true that the state increased freshwater diversions along the Mississippi River and that freshwater killed the oysters, the state only took that action to protect the beds from oil.

Sen. David Vitter asked BP to pay $15 million for new oyster cultch – oyster shell deposited under the water on which larvae grow. He was right to do so. While that isn’t enough money to restock all the beds that were damaged in St. Bernard, Plaquemines, Jefferson and Lafourche parishes, it is a start.

As for wetlands, Louisiana cannot afford further losses. It’s hard to see how BP can justify dragging its feet on replanting grasses and making other repairs to banks of canals and streams that were directly damaged by oil from the spill.

Gov. Bobby Jindal and BP America Chairman Lamar McKay announced at a news conference in November that the company was advancing the state $218 million for seafood marketing, tourism and barrier island restoration. At that same conference, Gov. Jindal said that the state and BP were working on a separate agreement to help pay for the construction of a fish hatchery, two fish grow-out facilities and the oyster seeding program.

Now, the state contends that the company seems to be backing out of that.

BP also has not paid $2.5 million to Wildlife and Fisheries for the loss of license fees, something that Mr. Barham said the company had promised in December.

“All we’ve asked is for them to do what they said they would do in their commercials, be here for the long haul and make it right,” Mr. Barham said.

Louisianians expect more than empty slogans; BP needs to fix what the oil spill damaged, from oyster beds to wetland grasses to fisheries, and the sooner the better.

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
Cooper Law Firm

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