How much does BP owe for damaging natural resources?

OCEAN SPRINGS, MS (WLOX) - By Steve Phillips – bio | email

OCEAN SPRINGS, MS (WLOX) - How much will BP pay for damaging natural resources in Mississippi during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill? The Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality is overseeing a lengthy process that will help answer that question.

If you haven't heard of NRDA yet, pronounced "nerr-duh", there's a good chance you will. That's the shortened version of the Natural Resource Damage Assessment.

MDEQ is responsible for quantifying all the damage caused by the oil spill, so the responsible party BP can pay the bill for restoration.

An oil skimmer boat turned DEQ sampling vessel heads out into the Mississippi Sound on Thursday morning.  The NRDA process is keeping boat crews and scientists busy assessing the oil spill damage.

"We started with shoreline assessment in mid-July. And that ran for about a month and a half. And that was teams going up and down the shore along the coast and assessing them for damage," said Nick Gatian, an environmental administrator with DEQ.

The converted skimmer boats are now using different sampling devices to search for oil in the Sound and around the barrier islands.

Absorbent "pom poms" are among the oil seeking materials.

"And then we take the pom pom material and tie that to the chain and we would have several of those pom poms down the chain," Gatian said, demonstrating the device.

The chain of pom poms is lowered into the water to cover specific "transects" at 60 sampling locations.

"Then we'll pull it up and see what we get," he said.

This damage assessment work is quite similar to the earlier oil response teams that hit the water, with one big exception.

"With the damage assessment, a positive hit is any speck of oil shows up on those pom poms. If you put out a 20 foot length of chain and one pom pom comes up with one piece that has a speck of oil on it, for damage assessment that's a positive hit," Gatian explains.

"Our job at the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality is to make sure that Mississippi is made whole from the impacts of the oil spill," said DEQ Executive Director Trudy Fisher, speaking at a Thursday morning news conference in Ocean Springs.

The NRDA process not only looks at actual physical damage, it also considers loss of use.  For example, your inability to enjoy the beach, or a favorite fishing spot during the BP oil spill.

"That is a loss that will be compensated for as well. The loss of the human use of the beaches. And the loss of the use of being able to get in your boat on a Saturday morning and go fishing," said Fisher.

The DEQ is inviting citizens to be a part of the NRDA process. The department is hosting a public meeting on Monday evening, November 22 at the USM campus in Long Beach. It will be held from 6 until 8pm in the Fleming Education building.

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