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Stillborn, dead young dolphins along the Gulf Coast died in areas damaged by Deepwater Horizon disaster, study concludes

Posted on: May 28th, 2016 by restoreit

The Advocate. Click for story.

Exposure to Deepwater Horizon oil caused illnesses that resulted in the early deaths of baby dolphins from 2010 into 2014 and possibly beyond, a new study finds.

Published in the journal Diseases of Aquatic Organisms, the study is a continuation of a number of research projects into the high number of dolphin deaths along the northern Gulf of Mexico in the wake of the 2010 oil spill. In this newest study, the researchers found that 88 percent of the stillborn and dead young dolphins found in areas impacted by the oil had abnormal lungs compared to 15 percent of young dolphins found in other areas.

The collapsed lungs of these young dolphins show they either died in the womb or shortly after being born, according to the report by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and a number of research partners.

The latest report builds on a body of research that has gone on since the 2010 oil Deepwater Horizon disaster.

A 2015 study showed stranded dolphins in the oiled area had a much greater chance of lung and adrenal gland damage than other dolphins. A 2013 study found dolphins in Barataria Bay, one of the more heavily oiled areas in Louisiana, were seriously ill. Almost half of the 32 dolphins sampled in that study were found to be in bad health, with almost 17 percent not expected to live much longer.

In the most recent study, researchers determined that the highest number of the dead, young dolphins were found in 2011, a year after the oil spill. Because bottlenose dolphins carry their young for an average 380 days, the young dolphins could have been exposed to oil during the previous year while in the womb. Although 2011 was the peak, the higher than normal death rates of young dolphins continued after that, said Jenny Litz, biologist with NOAA’s Marine Mammal Program.

“Reproductive success has been damaged, and it’s not clear how long those effects will go on,” Litz said. “It’s how long it will last that’s in question.”

A study on live dolphins in Barataria Bay released in November, showed that dolphins were having problems having calves. The study found about 20 percent of the dolphins sampled produced a viable calf compared to an 83 percent success rate reported previously in areas without oil damage.

Stephanie Venn-Watson, director of the Translational Medicine and Research Program with the National Marine Mammal Foundation, said the type of adrenal gland disease found in the adult dolphins fits with the number of young dolphins they found dead.

“Animals that have this type of adrenal disease run the risk of late term pregnancy problems,” Venn-Watson said. “It begs the question of other long-term impacts on other species.”

Litz said the studies focused on dolphins living near shore or in estuaries and it’s likely offshore dolphins experienced similar problems.

“It will be important to monitor these populations long term,” Litz said.

All the researchers agreed that it’s likely that other marine animals have had similar problems.

“It’s a species (dolphins) we can most easily study,” Kathleen Colegrove, the study’s lead author and veterinary pathology professor at the University of Illinois Chicago-based Zoological Pathology Program. “What we may be looking at is the tip of the iceberg.”

It’s too early to say how the dolphin deaths and problems reproducing will have on the long-term population of the animal, but researchers said they will continue monitoring.

“Dolphins are a long-lived species, so it could be years before we know the full impact,” Colegrove said.

An Unusual Mortality Event of dolphins in the northern Gulf of Mexico has been running since 2010, although there are investigations on whether it’s time to close that, Litz said.

The peak mortality was between 2010 and 2014; however there was a more recent uptick in deaths along the coast of Mississippi and the panhandle of Florida.

There was a red tide in the area during that time, so researchers are looking into that as well, Litz said.

The study is the result of teamwork of researchers from the University of Illinois, National Marine Mammal Foundation, NOAA, the Dauphin Island Sea Lab and University of South Alabama, the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies in Mississippi, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, Animal Health Center in British Columbia, the Mote Marine Laboratory in Florida, the University of Georgia and the University of North Carolina.

Follow Amy Wold on Twitter, @awold10.


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Gov. Edwards instructs administration to intervene in parish coastal suits against oil and gas companies

Posted on: May 27th, 2016 by restoreit

Gov. Edwards Instructs Administration to Intervene in Parish Coastal Suits Against Oil and Gas Companies

The Advocate. Click here for story
Gov. John Bel Edwards is intervening in a slew of lawsuits filed by three parishes alleging that oil and gas companies have violated their permits and damaged coastal properties over a period of decades — a move that further establishes the state as a major player in the ongoing litigation.

The Edwards administration’s announcement Thursday that it would get involved in the cases comes just weeks after Attorney General Jeff Landry filed similar motions.

While Edwards and Landry have traditionally been seen as on opposite sides when it comes to the oil and gas industry in Louisiana, Thursday’s announcement appears to suggest a new effort on the part of both officials to bring some kind of final resolution to the issue.

What that new cooperation means for the cases filed by Jefferson, Plaquemines and Cameron parishes — or larger efforts to hold the energy industry accountable for coastal erosion caused by nearly a century of drilling and dredging — remains unclear. But it could signal a more unified effort to handle coastal issues and could open the door to a global settlement with the oil and gas companies, something Edwards previously has indicated he would be seeking early in his term.

Edwards said Thursday he had instructed the Department of Natural Resources, which oversees the energy industry, to file a petition involving state government in the cases because they represent a concern that goes beyond the boundaries of the parishes that filed the suits.

“What we know is that the parishes filed lawsuits not just in their name but in the name of Louisiana,” he said. “Our one shot to make sure this is done right and our interests are adequately served by these lawsuits is in intervening.

“I don’t believe we have a choice other than to intervene.”

The suits were filed in recent years by parishes acting on their own behalf, under state laws that allow them to sue for damage in coastal areas. The decision by Edwards and Landry to intervene could potentially move those cases into the state’s hands, putting state officials in charge of how the cases proceed and how any money that is recovered is spent.

“This intervention would ensure that the interests of the state of Louisiana are fully protected and that any money recovered in these suits will be spent on coastal restoration,” Edwards said.

While the state’s involvement — which Edwards said Thursday would bring “all coastal stakeholders to the table” — could cut the parishes that filed the suits and the private attorneys pursuing the cases out of the loop, it also could presage a more concerted effort to bring the industry as a whole to the negotiating table.

Before his inauguration, Edwards said he was hoping to begin negotiating with companies in hopes of reaching a settlement along the state’s entire coast.

“One of the things I said over and over during the campaign is that I, as governor, will convene a meeting of the oil and gas company executives, and we’re going to have a discussion,” Edwards said at the time. “If they don’t want litigation, then they ought to voluntarily step up and do some meaningful restoration, and if they are amenable to that, we can do some wonderful things.”

But, he added, litigation would always be an option if negotiations did not work.

“I firmly believe that if there isn’t at least some implicit understanding that litigation follows an unsuccessful negotiation, there is not going to be a successful negotiation,” he said.

Edwards and Landry are unlikely allies in a suit against oil and gas companies.

While in the Legislature, Edwards was a reliable defender of both the parish lawsuits and a more expansive case by the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East that targeted dozens of oil and gas companies for contributing to erosion through drilling and dredging in coastal marshes.

The energy industry sided with Republican U.S. Sen. David Vitter in last year’s gubernatorial election, but there’s apparently been something of a thaw in Edwards’ relationship with oil and gas since his inauguration, as evidenced by two fundraisers industry associations have held for him this year.

Landry, by contrast, has been an ally of the energy industry who, as a congressman, criticized President Barack Obama for instituting a moratorium on drilling in the Gulf of Mexico following the BP oil spill.

But in a statement released Thursday, he said he “welcomed the administration’s intervention” and referred to a need to balance the economic benefits provided by the energy industry with an “ongoing coastal crisis that threatens our very existence.”

Staff writer Elizabeth Crisp contributed to this report. Follow Jeff Adelson on Twitter, @jadelson.

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Louisiana Oil Lawsuits Filed by Landowners, Environmental Groups, and Parishes

Posted on: September 15th, 2015 by restoreit

Louisiana Oil Lawsuits

Oil and gas companies are becoming the recipient of Louisiana oil lawsuits from many different parties across the state. The plantiffs are Louisiana parishes, Louisiana individual landowners, environmental groups, and more. The basis for suit is the contamination of land and water, and the violation of existing land protection laws.

Plaquemines and Jefferson Parish

There are over 70 oil and gas companies that operate in Louisiana. In Plaquemines Parish, 66% of tax revenue comes from oil and gas operations, making these companies a huge influence in the area, for better or for worse. Plaquemines Parish is one of the most fragile coastal environments and one that is also subjected to the oil and gas companies’ exploitation of land. Plaquemines Parish recently filed 21 lawsuits against some of these companies, congruent with the number of oil fields that were left in disrepair after oil company operations. Despite attempts from LOGA to end the Louisiana oil lawsuits, the parishes hold the legal authority to file such suits due to the pre-existing mandated coastal regulations and the 1978 law that outlines the responsibilities oil and gas companies have to restore the leased land.

oil sludge left on Louisiana residential property

Jefferson Parish filed an additional seven lawsuits, hoping to recover damages done to coastal land in their jurisdiction. If the lawsuits are successful, the oil and gas companies would have to repair the damages done or reimburse the state to fix the damages.

Because the oil and gas companies were historically left to self-report to the state and federal agencies, many environmental laws were broken or overlooked. In some cases, pipes were laid without permission, and wells were drilled without permits. Out of the 70-plus oil companies leasing land in Louisiana, not a single one has ever filed permits saying that the land was restored or in the process of being restored.

Environmental Groups File Suit Against Oil Companies

In 2014, Environmental groups Gulf Restoration Network, Louisiana Environmental Action Network and the Sierra Club filed a lawsuit against United Bulk for contaminating the Mississippi River with toxic petroleum coke and coal runoff. Coal runoff can result in chemicals like lead and arsenic migrating into the Mississippi. The basis for the lawsuit filed was unpermitted chemical discharges for the past five years. This runoff is the obvious violation of the federal Clean Water Act.

Landowners and Legacy Lawsuits

Legacy lawsuits are suits filed by Louisiana landowners who allowed oil and gas companies to lease their property for oil excavation on the terms that they would repair the site afterwards. Residents and landowners who state that the oil companies did not respect written agreements have filed lawsuits. Others have filed Louisiana oil lawsuits in response to groundwater and land contamination. Those opposing the legacy lawsuits say that is it hard to find fault on companies that were complying with the environmental laws at the time, regardless of current damages. Additional opposition comes from fear of job loss and costly litigation with no real state monetary gain.

leftover oil equipment results in louisiana oil lawsuit

Awaiting Resolve

Despite the several parties mentioned are in agreement about the responsibility of coastal damages, our state is still faces a lengthy process of coastal restoration and recovery. Quizzically, Louisiana’s multi-billion dollar Coastal Master Plan leaves most of the responsibility for restoration upon the state-funded systems, not the oil and gas companies that promised to fix them in their initial lease contracts. It is clear that we have reached the limits of pumping our fragile ecosystem for profit.

Tags: jefferson parish, legacy lawsuits, mississippi river, oil and gas companies, oil lawsuits, plaquemines parish, pollution
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