A group of environmental and public health organizations jointly filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Monday in Washington D.C., claiming the agency’s rules governing the use of chemical oil dispersants do not meet Clean Water Act requirements. The lawsuit was prompted by BP’s use of Corexit chemical dispersants to break up the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, which gushed out of control for three months.
The plaintiffs, which include conservation and wildlife groups, hope the lawsuit will compel the EPA to issue tougher regulations on the use of oil dispersants and specify where the chemicals can be used and how much can be used without harming the environment and putting people and wildlife at risk.
BP’s oil spill erupted on April 20, 2010, after the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded and sank 45 miles south of the Louisiana coast, leaving its Macondo well an open conduit for a giant oil reservoir about a mile beneath the sea floor. As attempts to cap the well failed, BP engineers took an “out of sight, out of mind” approach to combating the spill when they dumped more than a million gallons of Corexit dispersant on the oil slick from airplanes and boats. They also pumped nearly a million gallons of Corexit into the oil geyser at its source – a deep-sea application that had never been approved, let alone tested.
Shortly afterward, scientists documented giant plumes of dispersed oil twisting through miles of the Gulf of Mexico from the sea floor to the surface. Subsequent studies of the dispersants indicate they were extremely toxic to sea life and likely did the environment more harm than good.
“We’re disappointed that the agency doesn’t seem to understand the widespread public urgency to initiate this rulemaking process,” said Jill Mastrototaro, director of the Sierra Club Gulf Coast Protection Campaign. “If a spill or blowout happened tomorrow in the Gulf of Mexico, or any U.S. water for that matter, any dispersant that is used would not necessarily be safe for the waters, ecosystems, response workers, or nearby communities.”
The lawsuit isn’t the first one to challenge the EPA on its lack of oil dispersant regulations. Other environmental groups sued the EPA and the U.S. Coast Guard in April over the unregulated use of oil dispersants, arguing little was known about the chemicals’ environmental impact.