Coast Guard defends dispersant use in Gulf oil spill


BP inched closer to cementing the busted oil well as retired Adm. Thad Allen rejected assertions Sunday that federal officials allowed the energy giant too much leeway to use chemical dispersants in the Gulf of Mexico.

Allen told reporters during a conference call that federal regulators did not ignore environmental guidelines. He says some commanders on the scene had authority to allow more dispersants when needed.

“I’m satisfied we only use them when they are needed,” Allen said.

Documents released by a congressional subcommittee found that Coast Guard officials allowed BP to use hundreds of thousands of gallons of chemical dispersants in the Gulf despite a federal directive to use them rarely.

On May 26, the Environmental Protection Agency ordered BP not to use the chemicals to break up surface oil except in rare cases, but the Coast Guard routinely granted exemptions, the documents show, according to CNN.

The dispersants contributed to “a toxic stew of chemicals, oil and gas, with impacts that are not well understood,” Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., chairman of the House Subcommittee on Energy and Environment, wrote in a letter sent late Friday to Allen, who leads the U.S. response to the oil spill.

The Coast Guard approved more than 74 exemptions in 48 days and in one instance allowed BP to use a larger amount of dispersants than it sought, Markey said, noting the findings are based on an analysis by his panel’s staff.

Allen said Sunday he and EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson had worked together closely and nearly reached the agency’s goal of reducing dispersant use by 75%.

Meanwhile, engineers were planning Monday evening or Tuesday to begin pouring mud and concrete into the top of the well, which has been capped since July 15, Allen told reporters Sunday.

Before this “static kill” can start, debris must be cleared from one of the relief wells, Allen said. The debris fell in the bottom of the relief well when crews had to leave the Gulf site in July due to Tropical Storm Bonnie.

If the static kill succeeds, it will take less time to complete the next effort, in which concrete is poured into the lower part of the well via the relief well. Allen said it would take at least five to seven days before the “bottom kill” starts.

Since the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded on April 20, killing 11 workers, between 94 million gallons to 184 million gallons of oil spewed into the Gulf before the cap began containing the crude.

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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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