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.


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7/2/10 With controlled burns temporarily suspended on account of tempestuous weather, Gulf waters have had a reprieve lately from the roaring fires and billowing smoke plumes that, since late April, have come to overwhelm the oily seascape.

But as fire teams prepare to resume their work, the burning and flaring of oil is attracting growing criticism from environmentalists who worry about the hazards it poses to wildlife and Gulf Coast communities. Some say that BP isn't investing enough energy in other methods of cleaning up the roughly 2.2 million to 4.2 million barrels of oil that have spewed into the Gulf of Mexico as of June 29, according to the latest estimates...

Critics also note burning can imperil wildlife. Last week, the Center for Biological Diversity filed suit against BP under the Clean Water Act, charging the company with burning endangered sea turtles alive in the course of its cleanup efforts. In response, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Marine Fisheries Service announced it would place a NOAA observer with each fire team to inspect oil corrals before they are ignited...

Some oil is being burned using another method: flaring.

Only one of the two rigs collecting oil from the leaking well has the capacity to process and store the crude oil it captures. That ship, the Discoverer Enterprise, is connected to a cap that contains some of the gushing crude and feeds it to the rig through a riser. The Enterprise is able to isolate and burn the gas, store the oil, and pump the leftover water back into the ocean.

Its cohort, the Q4000, can't process or store the crude oil it collects. So the vessel burns both oil and gas through an "EverGreen" burner, said to provide a relatively clean burn by eliminating visible smoke emissions. Since it went into operation on June 16, the Q4000 has burned an average of 8,556 barrels of oil per day, totaling 119,780 barrels as of June 29 -- about half the oil burned thus far.

Burning oil aboard the Q4000 isn't harmless, says Subra, but it's far preferable to burning it off the water's surface. Gas flaring, meanwhile, is a waste of potentially usable energy, and further burdens the atmosphere with unnecessary greenhouse gas emissions, according to NOAA.

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7/1/10 Our Gulf Waterkeepers are on the front lines during the still-unfolding Gulf disaster. Their intimate knowledge of the Gulf Coast’s marshes, beaches and inner-coastal waters makes them invaluable first responders. Their commitment makes them critical and effective community leaders. Their wealth of scientific, legal and political knowledge makes them true voices of the people of the Gulf Coast and of the environment on which they depend.

Want to learn more?  Click here to download the latest issue of Waterkeeper Magazine or drop by the Humboldt Baykeeper office to pick up a copy.

5/26/10 The Waterkeeper Alliance and 41 of its affiliates, including Humboldt Baykeeper, expressed disappointment with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Obama administration regarding their lack of conviction to adequately regulate BP's use of chemical dispersants in the Gulf of Mexico.


The chemical Corexit is being applied at unprecedented levels in an attempt to disperse oil from the ongoing spill. Impacts to human health, wildlife, and water quality are not well known, and Waterkeeper groups in the Gulf region are receiving reports of health problems from fishermen and people involved in the oil spill cleanup. 


Read the Waterkeeper Alliance letter to President Obama and Lisa Jackson, Administrator of the US Environmental Protection Agency. 



5/20/10 The Environmental Protection Agency said it had told the oil company to immediately select a less toxic dispersant than the one it is now using to break up crude oil gushing from a ruined well in the Gulf of Mexico. Once the agency has signed off on a different product, it said, the company would then have 72 hours to start using it.

BP has sprayed nearly 700,000 gallons of Corexit dispersants on the surface of the gulf and directly onto the leaking well head a mile underwater. It is by far the largest use of chemicals to break up an oil spill in United States waters to date.

Scientists and politicians have questioned why the E.P.A. is allowing use of the Corexit products when less toxic alternatives are available.

On Monday, Representative Edward J. Markey, Democrat of Massachusetts, sent a letter to Ms. Jackson at the E.P.A. demanding details of the formula for Corexit products and information about any testing that had been carried out on the chemicals.

In a statement on Thursday, the E.P.A. said, “Because of its use in unprecedented volumes and because much is unknown about the underwater use of dispersants, E.P.A. wants to ensure BP is using the least toxic product authorized for use.”

BP said it was reviewing its options and did not detail which or how many dispersants it might propose for use.

But U.S. Polychemical of Spring Valley, N.Y., which makes a dispersant called Dispersit SPC 1000, said Thursday morning that it had received an order from BP and would increase its production to 20,000 gallons a day in the next few days, and eventually to as much as 60,000 gallons a day.

In a letter to BP’s chief executive, Tony Hayward, the agency’s administrator, Lisa Jackson, and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano also warned the company that it had “fallen short” in keeping the public informed. It demanded that BP release and post all data related to the month-old spill and monitoring efforts on a public Web site.

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