Federal agencies must not assume a large oil spill is unlikely in weighing the effects of proposed drilling projects on endangered species, according to a lawsuit filed by environmentalists yesterday.

The Center for Biological Diversity's lawsuit targets allegedly lax analyses by the Interior Department's offshore regulator.

Filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, the lawsuit accuses Interior Secretary Ken Salazar of falsely assuming spill risks in the Gulf of Mexico were too remote to jeopardize endangered whales and turtles. Such an assumption, the group says, led to the issuance of a drilling permit to BP PLC for the ill-fated well that has fouled the Gulf with crude after a April 20 rig explosion.

"While Salazar's conclusion that exploration drilling in the Gulf posed little risk of a large oil spill was dubious at the time it was made, in light of BP's calamity that position is completely untenable," said Miyoko Sakashita, the group's oceans director. "The public deserves disclosure and a full analysis of the true impacts of oil drilling off our coasts."

Interior did not immediately return requests for comment.

At issue is the former Minerals Management Service's work on exploratory drilling in the Gulf. The agency has since been carved up by the Obama administration and remained the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement.

Interior exempted BP's drilling operation from a detailed environmental impact analysis last year, after three reviews of the area concluded that a massive oil spill was unlikely.


Read Full Article