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Oil Pollution Act Update


June 28, 2016

An ELI Member Seminar

Congress enacted the Oil Pollution Act (OPA) in 1990, following the Exxon Valdez oil spill, to strengthen the federal government’s ability to prevent and respond to oil spills, establish financial resources to aid response, and raise standards for contingency planning. It is an area of law that is still evolving, particularly in the wake of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill and subsequent developments in Gulf restoration and recovery.

A number of recent cases have dealt with issues related to the spill, most notably the district court’s April 4 approval of the United States’ settlement of OPA and related liability issues with BP. Under this agreement, approximately $8.1 billion in natural resources damages will be paid to affected states and the federal government, in addition to a large civil penalty paid to the federal government, and payments for economic losses to the states and others.  According to Attorney General Loretta Lynch, this settlement recovered the “largest environmental penalty of all time while launching one of the most extensive environmental restoration efforts ever undertaken.”

In related developments, a court ruling found that BP was not liable for damages resulting from the moratorium on offshore drilling issued by the U.S. Department of the Interior. In accordance with the OPA and NEPA, the Deepwater Horizon Trustees recently issued a Record of Decision (ROD) for the Final Programmatic Damage Assessment and Restoration Plan and Final Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (Final PDARP/PEIS). Our expert panel briefed participants about these and other developments in oil pollution law, including:

  • the resolution of Deepwater Horizon civil penalties
  • developments regarding natural resource damage assessments and liability
  • challenges posed by rapidly changing  patterns of pipeline, shipping, and railroad transportation of crude oil and other petroleum products

Russ Randle, Partner, Squire Patton Boggs LLP (moderator)
Karen A. Mignone, Partner, Verrill Dana, LLP
Evelyn Nackman, Associate General Counsel, Association of American Railroads
Steven O'Rourke, Senior Attorney, Environmental Enforcement Section, Department of Justice
Cyn Sarthou, Executive Director, Gulf Restoration Network

If you are an ELI member and are logged onto the Members site, you will see links below to available materials/recordings from this session. If you are not an ELI member but would like to have access to archived sessions like this one, go HERE to see the many benefits of individual membership and how to join.

ELI Resources:
Oil Pollution Deskbook, 2nd ed. (2012)
Natural Resource Damage Assessment Deskbook, 2nd ed. (2014)
ELI Ocean Program's Gulf of Mexico Restoration and Recovery website provides a wealth of free information about the ongoing recovery efforts in the region. The site contains searchable databases, downloadable research reports, and more.