Federal Memo: Gulf Oil Spills Pose Little Risk To Animals

Fish and Wildlife Service failed to see any real danger

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It’s hard to imagine—as we watch birds, turtles, dolphins and other animals struggle and die in the oil from BP’s blown-out well—that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reported just three years ago that drilling in the Gulf of Mexico posed little risk to animal life.

A memo to that effect, unveiled by the New York Times and reported by AP, was sent by the agency to the Minerals Management Service as part of its assessment of various Gulf drilling operations, including the Deepwater Horizon operation that blew out April 20. Oil from the well continues gushing at an estimated 2.4 million gallons a day.

We long have known that the MMS was too friendly with the oil industry—a fact that came to public light when the BP spill occurred and led to federal investigations and a shakeup of the agency. But, it is especially troubling to find how willing the FWS was to endorse MMS’s flawed oversight. The FWS is, after all, the one agency whose mission is to protect our endangered and threatened wildlife.

The cascade of revelations about failed government oversight also includes the National Marine Fisheries Service, which likewise concluded that Gulf drilling was of little risk to endangered or threatened species in the Gulf.

If there’s a clear and immediate lesson from all this, it’s that we need a full investigation of how oil drilling leases are approved, and the drilling itself overseen. It’s not just the MMS that’s corrupted. The whole process is suspect.

From 2006–2014, Terry was managing editor for Earthjustice's blog, online monthly newsletter and print Earthjustice Quarterly Magazine.