Government exempted BP project from impact study
The Interior Department exempted BP's calamitous Gulf of Mexico drilling operation from a detailed environmental-impact analysis last year, according to government documents, after three reviews of the area concluded that a massive oil spill was unlikely.
The Washington Post
Other developmentsWeather helps: The winds and waters calmed in the Gulf of Mexico on Tuesday, allowing crews to step up their efforts to contain the crude oil leaking uncontrollably into the sea and spreading toward the coasts of four states.
Dome complete: BP officials said construction is completed on a dome to be used to attempt to contain the oil leak. It could be in place as early as the weekend.
Warning on larger spill: Executives from BP told members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee that in the worst-case scenario a leaking well could spew up to 60,000 barrels, or 2.5 million gallons, of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. The well has been leaking about 5,000 barrels a day — or 210,000 gallons — into the Gulf since an explosion April 20 on an offshore drilling rig.
Wildlife damage: A second bird has been found in the Gulf of Mexico oil slick and is recovering at a bird rescue center in Louisiana. Wildlife officials are saying that at least 35 endangered sea turtles have washed up on Gulf Coast beaches, but necropsies found no oil. Experts are still warning that the turtles may have eaten fish contaminated by the oil spill.
Seattle Times news services
WASHINGTON — The Interior Department exempted BP's calamitous Gulf of Mexico drilling operation from a detailed environmental-impact analysis last year, according to government documents, after three reviews of the area concluded that a massive oil spill was unlikely.
The decision by the department's Minerals Management Service (MMS) to give BP's lease at Deepwater Horizon a "categorical exclusion" from the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) on April 6, 2009 — and BP's lobbying efforts just 11 days before the explosion to expand those exemptions — show that neither federal regulators nor the company anticipated an accident of the scale of the one unfolding in the Gulf.
BP spokesman Toby Odone said the company's appeal for NEPA waivers "was based on the spill and incident-response history in the Gulf of Mexico."
While the MMS assessed the environmental impact of drilling in the central and western Gulf of Mexico on three occasions in 2007 — including a specific evaluation of BP's Lease 206 at Deepwater Horizon — in each case it played down the prospect of a major blowout.
In one assessment, the agency estimated that "a large oil spill" from a platform would not exceed a total of 1,500 barrels and that a "deepwater spill," occurring "offshore of the inner Continental shelf," would not reach the coast. In another assessment, it defined the most likely large spill as totaling 4,600 barrels and forecast that it would largely dissipate within 10 days and would be unlikely to make landfall.
"They never did an analysis that took into account what turns out to be the very real possibility of a serious spill," said Holly Doremus, a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley, who has seen the documents.
Interior Department spokesman Matt Lee-Ashley said the service grants between 250 and 400 waivers a year for Gulf of Mexico projects. BP's exploration plan for Lease 206, which calls the prospect of an oil spill "unlikely," stated that "no mitigation measures other than those required by regulation and BP policy will be employed to avoid, diminish or eliminate potential impacts on environmental resources."
While the plan included a 13-page environmental-impact analysis, it minimized the prospect of any serious damage associated with a spill, saying there would be only "sub-lethal" effects on fish and marine mammals, and "birds could become oiled. However it is unlikely that an accidental oil spill would occur from the proposed activities."
Kieran Suckling, executive director of the environmental group Center for Biological Diversity, said the federal waiver "put BP entirely in control" of the way it conducted its drilling.
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