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Gulf Oil Spill Sticking Around A Year Later

A year after BP’s oil spill devastated the Gulf of Mexico, we are analyzing the cleanup efforts and, sadly, find them both paltry and embarrassing.

The U.S. Coast Guard has issued an unbelievably bogus report that says that no further remedial action is needed to clean up BP’s massive mess. Huh? The tourist boosters don’t like to say it, but this oil is not gone, not by a long shot. It exists in floating mats in the ocean, on the floor of the Gulf, and underneath the sand on countless beaches. 

Earthjustice has filed a petition on behalf of the Florida Wildlife Federation under the federal Data Quality Act which challenges the Coast Guard’s ridiculous claim that no further cleanup is needed. The Coast Guard made its claim in a document called a Net Environmental Benefit Analysis (“NEBA”), which is the government’s method to “evaluate the tradeoffs related to spill response and cleanup techniques,” and to determine how best to strike a balance between “enough” cleanup and “too much” cleanup.

Our analysis shows that the report was not scientifically peer reviewed by outside experts, and, incredibly, two BP employees sit on the evaluation team – a glaring conflict of interest.
There’s more: The Coast Guard’s conclusion that no more cleanup is needed was based on a tiny set of samples -- only four beach sampling sites for almost a thousand miles of coastline. That is certainly not enough samples to base a decision on the cleanup of the biggest oil spill in U.S. history. It’s worth noting that astronauts took more samples than that from the Moon!
Government regulators need to do more extensive, scientific beach sampling before they compare environmental benefits to environmental costs. 
 
The government report also seriously downplays the risk to sea turtles. Five of the world’s seven species of sea turtle nest on the Gulf Coast. Each species – the green, hawksbill, loggerhead, leatherback, and Kemp’s Ridley – are federally listed as either threatened or endangered.
 
The oil can do major harm to nesting sea turtles, eggs, and hatchlings. The Coast Guard’s report insists that the risk of injury to the turtles is low, but also admits that the danger to turtles is higher when the oil softens in summer heat. News flash! The South’s beaches get blazingly hot in the summer, when sea turtles nest. Before anyone decides that oiled buried on Gulf beaches doesn’t need to be cleaned further, scientists ought to analyze the effects of oil in summer temperatures.
 
Moreover, the report indicates that 20 percent of the oil will remain in the environment up to seven and a half years from now. Buried oil could continue to harm sea turtles for generations. Before it concludes that leaving the oil in place won’t harm turtles, the Coast Guard must carefully map deposits of buried oil and compare the data with known sea turtle nesting locations – it only makes sense.
 
There is also the very serious and visible issue of tar mats still floating in the Gulf. Each tar mat constitutes approximately half a ton of oil, yet there have been numerous reports of the Coast Guard dismissing citizen reports of submerged oil mats in specific areas. Callers are often told that the brownish black substance they see is sludge or algae, or natural seaweed called sargassum. Sargassum is not often found in the Eastern Gulf this early in the year, so it is extremely unlikely that reports of oil mats are actually sargassum. Far more likely is that many of these reports are going unacknowledged, uninvestigated, or even undocumented.
 
The Coast Guard should be keeping a detailed record of all oil mat reports and investigating each one of them by air and boat (the mats are visible from aircraft and boats should be out sampling them to confirm that the objects are, in fact, oil mats).
 
The report also doesn’t analyze the possible effects that these oil mats have when shrimp nets or dredges trawl through the Gulf – an everyday occurrence. Incredibly, the report doesn’t even consider the effect that major storms and Gulf hurricanes will have in disturbing and redistributing the oil mats! 
 
All of this oversight is quite shocking and disappointing. You would think regulators would be more thorough, considering the massive impact of the biggest oil spill in our country’s history and all the attention being paid to it. The bottom line is that the government can, and must, do better to force BP to clean up its mess and make our Gulf whole again. We’re standing watch to make sure that happens.

 

Tags:  oceans, oil

About the Earthjustice Blog

unEARTHED is a forum for the voices and stories of the people behind Earthjustice's work. The views and opinions expressed in this blog do not necessarily represent the opinion or position of Earthjustice or its board, clients, or funders. Learn more about Earthjustice.