Level of oil dispersant chemicals used in Gulf raises concerns

The Environmental Protection Agency gave BP on Wednesday 24 hours to find an oil dispersant less toxic than the ones it has been spraying in massive quantities above the Gulf of Mexico and under the surface. The EPA requested that BP provide it with a list of available dispersants and begin using the new dispersants within 72 hours.

The request indicates that federal regulators are concerned that the chemical dispersants being used in unprecedented quantities could pose a threat of their own to the Gulf’s marine life and coastal ecosystems. BP has been using two Nalco-brand dispersants, Corexit 9500A and Corexit 9572A, to break the oil up into small particles than can be consumed by micro organisms. So far, BP has used about 600,000 gallons of dispersants on the surface and 55,000 gallons underwater.

Yesterday, BP ordered 60,000 gallons of Dispersit produced by the U.S. Polychemical Corporation. Many environmentalists and lawmakers favor Dispersit over other chemical dispersants because it’s believed to be less toxic. The U.K. banned some forms of the Corexit brand dispersant years ago.

A BP spokesman has said that the company chose Corexit because it was readily available in quantities required by the spill response and was pre-approved by the U.S. government for use in treating oil spills.

Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass) sent a letter earlier this week to the EPA voicing his concerns over the massive use of dispersants.

“The release of hundreds of thousands of gallons of chemicals into the Gulf of Mexico could be an unprecedented, large and aggressive experiment on our oceans, and requires careful oversight by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other appropriate federal agencies,” Markey’s letter stated.

The EPA’s request for a more environmentally friendly oil dispersant is especially significant since BP announced Thursday that it is now siphoning 5,000 barrels of oil a day out of the Gulf of Mexico. BP is sucking the oil from a tube it has inserted into the pipe that fell to the sea floor and broke after the Deepwater Horizon sank a month ago. The announcement came as an admission by BP and federal agencies that their 5,000-barrel-per-day guesstimate, which has been repeated in nearly every media report in the last 3 weeks, was too low.

A number of reputable scientists have stepped forward in recent days to estimate the oil flow by studying video footage of the leak, analyzing satellite images of the spill, and using simple but accurate math equations. Working independently of one another, the scientists produced evidence that the leak is actually much worse than the official estimate by four times at the very least. A more likely figure is about 70,000 barrels or 2,940,000 gallons of crude per day.

With those numbers, it’s no surprise that BP acted like there was too much containment and capping work to be done for it to accommodate any efforts to actually measure the spill. Besides, BP execs said, knowing the amount of oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico every day wouldn’t change how it would ultimately kill the monstrous oil spill or control the damage it is unleashing.