ENVIRONMENT

BP Wildlife Fund Details Remain Vague, Well's Minority Owner Not Yet Committed To Plan

BP announced last week that it will be allocating the profits earned by selling recovered oil in the Gulf region to an unnamed wildlife fund. The oil giant claims that the money from the wildlife fund will be used to revitalize the Gulf yet environmentalists are taking a wait-and-see attitude since few details have emerged regarding the duration or funding for such a plan. In addition, one of BP's partners in the damaged well has not yet committed to the plan.

Richard Charter, an offshore drilling expert with Defenders of Wildlife, expressed his optimism when asked about the wildlife fund's potential but he remains concerned about BP's sincerity and commitment to restoration. BP has yet to announce details addressing the duration of its restoration plan and Charter warns that any effort that does not exceed a decade is nothing more than a positive public relations campaign on the part of the company. In Charter's estimation: "Relief efforts of this magnitude do not take a few months or years, they take decades."

According to BP's Website, "revenue going into the fund will end when the MC252 well is killed and oil is no longer coming from this source."

In addition, the company states:

The fund will provide money to wildlife programs in the four gulf states (LA, MS, AL, FL). The fund will pay for programs over and above any required under OPA. These funds will be made available to state agencies and non-profits that are focused on wildlife protection and restoration. Specifics on the funding mechanism, and projects, have not been determined at this time.

Although BP's planned wildlife fund is the first of its kind in that it is a voluntary measure taken by an oil company rather than an involuntary one, it is not the first attempt to restore animal habitats. The Alaska SeaLife Center, an aquarium bordering Seward's Resurrection Bay that was largely funded by Exxon following the infamous Exxon Valdez spill in 1989, has been operating for the past decade. Its mission statement reads: "The Alaska SeaLife Center is dedicated to understanding and maintaining the integrity of the marine ecosystem of Alaska. We achieve our mission through research, rehabilitation, conservation, and public education." The Alaska SeaLife Center continues to investigate the causes of a decline in marine life, while providing a safe habitat for those affected by various environmental forces.

The Alaska SeaLife Center is not an anomaly as far as rehabilitation efforts are concerned. On June 23, 2000, when the Panamanian iron ore tanker MV Treasure sank between Robben Island and Dassen Island, South Africa, the spill ended up covering nearly 20,000 African Penguins in oil. The relief effort, overseen by IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare) and the South African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB), cared for nearly 40,000 African Penguins, half of which were not oiled but were threatened by it, before re-releasing them into safer waters. That cleanup effort lacked funding from oil companies but the organizations involved and the group of volunteers who aided them were able to successfully rescue a large number of a species threatened by the disaster.

BP faces a similar dilemma considering how many vulnerable species are native to the Gulf waters. Among the at-risk species are the Kemp's Ridley sea turtle, sperm whale and Atlantic bluefin tuna. The Kemp's Ridley sea turtle was enjoying a population boom up until the spill, which sadly took place in the middle of their mating season. Additionally, the sperm whale's existence has been compromised to the point where three confirmed whale deaths will put them on the path to endangerment in the United States. The whales have also been victims of seismic surveying from vessels searching for oil. The Atlantic bluefin tuna, another vulnerable species bordering on endangerment, has also been devastated by the Gulf oil spill during its peak mating season. This particular mating season for the tuna was a pivotal one, marking what was supposed to be a long-anticipated increase in population after researchers dedicated years to slowly revitalize the species.

BP has said that it will release more details as the situation in the Gulf improves, enumerating the measures it will be taking in order to restore the damage done by the Deepwater Horizon leak.

BP's partner in the well, Anadarko Petroleum, which will enjoy 25 percent of the profits on the sales of recovered oil before royalties are paid out, has not yet committed to the wildlife plan.

"We're going to do the right thing," Anadarko spokesman John Christiansen told Huffington Post. "We're evaluating what to do with that revenue. We have not decided yet."

Some members of Congress, including Rep. Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.), have urged Anadarko to take part.

Rahall wrote Anadarko last week, stating that "it is essential that all companies associated with this incident do their part to help mitigate the ongoing human suffering and environmental damage." He added that Anadarko should "follow BP's lead and donate its share of net revenues to help the people and environment of the Gulf."