BP Kills Turtles in Oil Containment Burns, Suit Says


July 1 (Bloomberg) — Endangered sea turtles are being killed in BP Plc’s “controlled burns” in the Gulf of Mexico by getting trapped inside the booms the company uses to collect spilled oil, wildlife activists said in a lawsuit.

London-based BP, which is struggling to control the largest spill in U.S. history, should be forced to stop the burns or ensure no turtles are caught inside the floating “corrals” before the oil is ignited, the environmentalists said in the suit. BP’s killing of the turtles constitutes an illegal “taking” of an endangered species under environmental laws, they claim.

The plaintiffs seek a temporary order restraining BP from any activities in the Gulf of Mexico that could risk killing or injuring endangered and threatened sea turtles, William Eubanks and Jason Burge, lawyers for the environmentalists, said in papers filed in New Orleans federal court yesterday.

The case was reassigned to U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier, who set a hearing on the request for July 2. Barbier already presides over 35 lawsuits claiming spill-related damages by fishing industry workers, property owners, tourism businesses and other environmental groups.

Leatherneck, Loggerhead

“BP has already killed or otherwise harmed” hundreds of rare Kemp’s Ridley, Leatherback, Loggerhead and other species of endangered sea turtles through its use of controlled burns or as a result of contamination from the oil spill itself,” the lawsuit claims. The animals become trapped when shrimp boats encircle patches of floating oil with fire-resistant booms to create “burn boxes” 60 to 100 feet in diameter, they said.

In affidavits filed with the lawsuit, boat captains and turtle rescue workers say that in recent weeks they’ve saved numerous sea turtles that were trapped in heavy oil-sludge lines offshore, many from the same areas where trawlers are corralling sludge for controlled burns. The turtles are too heavily oiled to free themselves from the sludge and swim to safety, although out of the oil they respond well to rehabilitation, the witnesses said.

“Although I assume that such acts are an unintentional consequence of BP’s controlled burning strategy, I expect that these incidental burnings are almost certainly occurring based on my personal observations,” said Kevin Aderhold, a Louisiana charter boat captain involved in the sea turtle rescue effort.

BP spokesman Tony Odone said the company had no comment on pending litigation.

BP has yet to contain a damaged underwater well that has been spewing as much as 60,000 barrels of crude oil daily off the Louisiana coast since the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig burned and sank in April.

BP, as owner of the lease, has primary responsibility for cleaning up the oil and is the only defendant in the turtle case.

The case is Animal Welfare Institute v. BP America Inc. et al, 2:10-cv-01866, U.S. District Courts, Eastern District of Louisiana (New Orleans).

–With assistance from Leslie Snadowsky in New Orleans. Editors: Fred Strasser, Glenn Holdcraft.

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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