Historic NRDAR Settlement Reached for Deepwater Horizon Spill

Last edited 09/03/2020
Contact Information

Nanciann Regalado

DOI Deepwater Horizon NRDAR

Outreach & Public Affairs


On April 20, 2010 the Deepwater Horizon oil rig blew up and was consumed by fire. Eleven men died and many others were injured. For 87 days the well spewed oil – a total of 134 million gallons were released into the Gulf of Mexico. Ultimately, more than 43,000 square miles of the Gulf and its shoreline were oiled. The Deepwater Horizon oil spill was the worst environmental disaster in our nation’s history.

As the volume of oil released grew, and the inevitability of widespread injury and death of wildlife became apparent, many people worried whether those responsible for the spill would be held accountable. As proved by a historic settlement reached in April 2016, responsible parties will be held accountable. The Department of the Interior played a key role in that outcome.

On April 4, 2016 District Judge Carl Barbier approved a settlement for $20.8 billion and effectively ended almost six years of litigation over BP’s responsibility for civil penalties and future litigation for natural resource damages arising from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The settlement included provisions for the largest recovery of natural resource damages ever approved for injuries to natural resources.

Under the settlement, BP will pay the Natural Resource Damage Assessment and Restoration (NRDAR) Trustees (five Gulf States and four federal agencies) up to $8.8 billion for restoration to address natural resource injuries. The settlement includes:

  • $1 billion already committed during early restoration
  • $7.1 billion for restoration over 15-plus years, beginning in April 2017
  • Up to an additional $700 million to respond to natural resource damages unknown at the time of the agreement and/or to provide for adaptive management

The settlement also provides an additional $5.5 billion in funding from Clean Water Act civil penalties. As required by legislation adopted after the spill only 20 percent of those penalties will go directly to the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund. In accordance with the RESTORE Act (spell out), 80 percent or $4.4 billion will be sent directly to a fund specifically established to support the environmental and economic restoration of the Gulf of Mexico. Claims under the False Claims Act, royalties and reimbursement of natural resource damage assessment costs, and other expenses due to the incident account for the remainder of the $20.8 billion total of the settlement.

The Service and the National Park Service played a critical role in assessing injuries to federal lands and other natural resources that were caused by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. We not only assessed injury to the wildlife refuges and national parks located all along the Gulf coast, we also assessed injury to migratory birds, threatened and endangered species, some jurisdictional fish, and natural resource services, such as recreational use of federal lands.

Other portions of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill injury assessment were conducted by our fellow Trustees. For example, NOAA assessed the spill’s impacts on the water column, deep sea environment and marine mammals. Together, the Trustees undertook an ecosystem-based approach to assessing and restoring the natural resources injured by the spill.

The injury assessment shaped the restoration plan approved by the Trustees in March 2016. The Programmatic Damage Assessment and Restoration Plan and Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement provide a framework for future restoration strategies, plans and projects. It identifies five restoration goals: restore and conserve habitat; restore water quality; replenish and protect living coastal and marine resources; provide and enhance recreational opportunities; and provide for monitoring, adaptive management, and administrative oversight to support restoration implementation. The programmatic plan also identifies 13 restoration types that will address the injury experienced by the Gulf’s natural resources: wetlands, coastal, and nearshore habitats; habitat projects on federally managed lands; nutrient reduction; water quality; fish and water column invertebrates; sturgeon; submerged aquatic vegetation; oysters; sea turtles; marine mammals; birds; mesophotic and benthic (lowlight and ocean floor) communities; provide and enhance recreational opportunities.

The Deepwater Horizon oil spill settlement is bringing an unprecedented amount of restoration funding to the Gulf of Mexico. For the NRDAR funds, the schedule for payment extends across more than 15 years. There will be much work to do and much to learn over the next two decades. We look forward to sharing our successes and lessons learned in future news releases.

Editor’s note: The ORDA is committed to providing our readers more information on the story of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill injury assessment and restoration. Please see future news releases for more in-depth articles about the past and future work of the Services’ Deepwater Horizon NRDAR team.

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