On April 20, 2010, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill set into motion the largest Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) in our nation’s history. An NRDA is the process by which natural resource trustees (federal, state and tribal) develop the public’s claim against parties responsible for damages to natural resources and services. The trustees are authorized, through multiple environmental statutes, to seek compensation in order to restore or replace the natural resources that have been damaged. The Deepwater Horizon NRDA process is important, not only because of its unprecedented size, but because the process used by the federal trustees is likely to affect how the trustees approach future NRDA actions. There are two concurrent activities that are underway in the Deepwater Horizon NRDA: the early restoration actions and the injury assessment process.

Under an April 2011 agreement, BP, as one of the responsible parties, agreed to provide $1B to fund early restoration actions (the “Fund”). The Fund was divided among the trustees as follows: $500 million split equally among the five Gulf states (Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas); $200 million split among the federal trustees (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Department of the Interior (DOI)); and $300 million to fund state-proposed restoration projects as selected by NOAA and the DOI. Plans for early restoration projects are developed prior to the completion of an injury assessment in order to achieve restoration faster and decrease the overall cost of the NRDA. Projects that have already been approved include those to rebuild coastal marshes, replenish damaged beaches, restore barrier islands and wetlands, and conserve sensitive areas of ocean habitat for impacted wildlife. A Draft Phase 1 Early Restoration Plan and Environmental Assessment was published in December 2011.

While these early restoration actions are underway, trustees are continuing to assess the extent of the injury through 13 technical work groups, comprised of subject matter experts and scientists from state and federal resource agencies, universities and other institutions. Funding for the work of these technical work groups and for any subsequent restoration and injury compensation is expected to come from the parties responsible for the natural resource damages and be separate from the Fund for early restoration.

A summary of the work of these technical groups. A summary of the workplans developed by the technical workgroups. The following is a list of the NRDA technical work groups:
  • Submerged Aquatic Vegetation
  • Oysters
  • Shorelines
  • Terrestrial Species
  • Birds
  • Human Use
  • Water Column and Invertebrates
  • Nearshore Sediment and Associated Resources
  • Marine Fish
  • Marine Mammals
  • Sea Turtles
  • Deepwater Communities
  • Shallow Corals

Anyone interested in learning more about the Deepwater Horizon NRDA process can find additional information through the following links:

http://www.gulfspillrestoration.noaa.gov/ http://www.gulfspillrestoration.noaa.gov/about-us/co-trustees/