Much of BP damage money remains unspent - FOX 13 News

Much of BP damage money remains unspent

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ST. PETERSBURG (FOX 13) -

Sunday marks the fourth anniversary of the BP oil spill, which is now known as the worst environmental disaster in the history of the United States.

It is a milestone marked by a degree of frustration.

At a news conference Thursday, Dr. Robert Weisberg with the University of South Florida, noted the lack of "baseline data" about the Gulf of Mexico before the disaster and now.

"You can't fix it if you don't know how it works, and you can't restore it if you don't know what it was to begin with," Weisberg said.

Newly-elected U.S. Representative David Jolly was also present and repeated his opposition to expanded oil drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico.

Later, Jolly told FOX 13 News the damages already paid and yet to be paid by BP and its contractors should be enough to counteract decades of environmental abuse and neglect of the Gulf.

"We can't miss this opportunity. We have to get this right," Jolly said.

Asked what could wrong, the congressman responded "Well, that much money, with a lot of hands in it, and a lot of competing interests..."

Nearly $5 billion has already been collected or pledged, and another $10 to $20 billion could be forthcoming. Only a few tens of millions of dollars have been spent so far.

The early research has identified oil spill impacts on a variety of creatures, including dolphin, tuna, sea turtles and red snappers.

Hundreds of millions of dollars is still held by the U.S. Treasury as five states and several federal agencies try to develop a spending plan.

"There needs to be a plan," said David White, director of the National Wildlife Federation's Gulf Restoration Project. "Without a plan then we're going to wind potentially with random acts of restoration."

The oil spill started with an explosion April 20, 2010 on the floor of the Gulf beneath the Deepwater Horizon oil rig. Eleven workers perished that day, and nearly five million barrels of oil spewed uninterrupted before the rupture was finally capped on July 15.

The immediate response also dispersed 1.8 million gallons of chemical dispersant now believed to have caused additional environmental damages.

Editor's note: Dr. Weisberg's affiliation with USF has been corrected.

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