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National Aquarium testifies at Senate’s Deepwater Horizon Natural Resource Damage Hearing


On Tuesday, June 28, Dr. Erik Rifkin, Executive Director of the National Aquarium Conservation Center was invited to provide testimony to the U.S. Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works: Subcommittee on Water and Wildlife. The hearing, entitled, “Status of the Deepwater Horizon Natural Resource Damage Assessment” focused on the evaluation and improvement of our ability to measure long-term chronic damages to our environment in the wake of last year’s oil spill.

“Improved technologies should be used to accurately assess natural resource damages to the gulf ecosystem,” commented Dr. Rifkin. ”Without a complete understanding of chronic and long-term effects, we will not be able to determine the impact of the oil spill on the gulf ecosystem and the citizens that depend on them.”

Last July, only days after the wellhead was capped, Dr. Rifkin sat before this same subcommittee and emphasized the importance of independent research when attempting to quantify potential chronic damages to natural resources in the Gulf resulting from exposure to petroleum from the BP spill. Acute effects were being summarily categorized – marine mammal and sea turtle deaths and strandings, lost incomes for gulf citizens, closed fisheries, oiled birds and salt marshes, etc. What was not known was the long-term damages the petroleum would have on the physical and biological processes dependent upon Gulf waters. This led Dr. Rifkin and his colleagues to ask, will the Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) process going to be able to measure small quantities of petroleum contaminants which could have chronic and long-term impacts on aquatic biota?

More specifically, the National Aquarium’s testimony, and the testimony of the other independent researchers on the panel, suggested that improved sampling methodologies be used to measure low levels of petroleum in order to accurately characterize ecological risks.

Since the last hearing, the National Aquarium Conservation Center (NACC), in collaboration with Mote Marine Laboratory and Johns Hopkins University, has conducted research designed to provide concerned government agencies and others with data necessary to quantify chronic damages to natural resources in the Gulf.

The findings from this independently funded study will be readily available to interested parties, including Gulf communities directly impacted by this oil spill and provide a far more accurate assessment of the nature and extent of chronic damages in the Gulf than the standard approach of collection and analysis of grab samples of water and sediment.

Additional witnesses at the hearing supported this process, including Senator Ben Cardin.

“The long-term effects to the gulf are only beginning to emerge…we must make sure the NRDA process is being done as accurately as possible; providing transparency and public engagement in the process, commented Senator Cardin. ”Dr. Rifkin and the NACC have contributed substantially to our understanding of the chronic effects of the oil spill and we must make sure we can provide independent and unbiased assessments as we move forward.”

A meaningful NRDA must be able to incorporate robust data into economic models in order to accurately quantify chronic damages and injury to natural resources in the Gulf.

In light of the current findings, the National Aquarium Conservation Center is urging officials to give serious consideration to expanding the use of the National Aquarium’s sampling methods in impacted areas of the Gulf as soon as possible.

“This method will increase our ability to assess causality between the release of oil and injured resources and/or lost human use of those resources and services, added Rifkin.

More information on the National Aquarium’s NRDA study can be obtained through the National Aquarium’s media relations department at 410-576-3860.