Ryan Stoa, Fellow in Water Law, discusses legal implications of dolphin deaths linked to BP Oil Spill in a recent Law360 article. Below is an abstract of the article:
A recent government study linking dolphin injuries to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill provides unprecedented evidence for federal officials looking to target BP PLC for harm to the Gulf of Mexico’s aquatic life and could cost the oil giant tens of millions of dollars in new penalties. A team of researchers led by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientists concluded last month that disease conditions for bottlenose dolphins exposed to the spill were “significantly greater in prevalence and severity” than those for dolphins in another part.
The dolphin harm opens the door for the federal government to aggressively pursue BP under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, which forbids companies like BP from adversely impacting the life of a dolphin in any way. This broad prohibition should embolden the government to pursue the oil giant, according to Ryan Stoa, a fellow in water law and policy at Florida International University’s College of Law. “This new report could have pretty significant implications,” Stoa said. “The government could have what it feels is a strong claim under the MMPA.”
BP emphasizes that NOAA has found so-called unusual deaths among bottlenose dolphins in the Gulf of Mexico starting two months before the spill. “It seems fairly clear from the study that those symptoms are taking place because of exposure to petroleum, but proving causation could be a tricky task for the government given observed population declines that preceded the spill,” Stoa said.
Still, coastal communities that opted out of a class action settlement with BP may have a stronger claim with the new evidence. “These dolphins are charismatic megafauna, so to speak, and are valuable for tourism in Gulf Coast communities, who could claim that significant impairment of the dolphin population could lead to economic losses,” Stoa said.
The full article is available here.