Document Type


Publication Date

Summer 8-1-2014


The federal effort to quantify and capture non-market damages to coastal ecosystems from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, Phase II of United States of America v. BP Exploration and Production, centers on the Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) process. This paper makes the case that the current NRDA process has done a poor job protecting the public interest and resolving the issues surrounding oil spills from deep water drilling activities. After 5 years, the findings of the NRDA still remain sealed from both affected maritime communities and academic researchers until litigation is settled with civil and criminal fines for BP’s Clean Water Act violations and damages to coastal ecosystems. This multi-year legal process further retards progress in using the latest science to inform policy for the future of proposed off-shore oil activities, including introducing new regulations that would subject semi-submersible oil platforms to the same rigor as oil tankers. Using historical comparisons, this paper examines how the political economy of legal procedures and damage assessment processes has created winners and losers in the aftermath of DWH, especially with respect to the Vietnamese-American ethnic maritime community. Finally, proposals are suggested how the regulatory landscape, and specifically the NRDA process, might be improved to strengthen transparency, better inform policies in a timely fashion, and encompass cultural resources.