Report: 'From a long-term coastal restoration perspective, the berms may indeed be a significant step forward, but they were not successful for oil spill response.'
Remember those $360-million sand berms the federal government ordered BP to build in the Gulf of Mexico to protect coastal Louisiana from the damaging ecological impact of oil from the BP oil spill? It turns out they didn't really do much, at least not in terms of capturing any significant amount of oil, the presidential commission investigating the spill has concluded.
In a report (pdf) issued on Thursday by the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling, staff concluded that national incident commander Ret. Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen faced intense political pressure to approve the project, and that in hindsight, the 1,000 barrels of oil they captured do not justify the high cost of the still-ongoing project.
"The Commission staff can comfortably conclude that the decision to green-light the underwhelmingly effective, overwhelmingly expensive Louisiana berms project was flawed," the report states.
Admiral Allen had originally balked at the 86-mile long network of protective sand berms to guard marshes and natural barrier islands against the impact of the oil spill, but pressure from local, state and federal elected officials to approve the project played a role in the decision to approve the berms.
"In analyzing whether the berms would be effective, the National Incident Command sought to balance science with the demands of elected officials. Ultimately, pressure to build the berms overwhelmed the analysis."
The commission was pretty clear that the sand berms were not a cost-effective oil spill response. "$220 million for a spill response measure that trapped not much more than 1,000 barrels of oil is not a compelling cost-benefit tradeoff," the report states.
Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, one of the biggest supporters of the berms, criticized the commission's conclusions as “partisan revisionist history.” Jindal, who scored a big political coup by getting the federal government to pay for the sand berms, still maintains that they were a big success, although his metrics are not only based on the amount of oil the new islands prevented from reaching Louisiana marshlands.
“We are thrilled that this has become the state’s largest barrier island restoration project in history,” Governor Jindal said.
BP, which had originally (and perhaps correctly) objected to the sand berms as a "hurricane relief project," has spent $220 million on the project to date and has promised to pay another $140 million for the work still being done.