MOBILE, Ala. (CN) – Even after the April 20 disaster that set off what is likely to be the biggest oil spill in history, the Minerals Management Service authorized more than 20 “categorical exclusions” from environmental laws to several companies, including BP, the Defenders of Wildlife claims in Federal Court. The Defenders claim the MMS violated federal laws by “arbitrarily and capriciously” granting the exclusions, and finding that deepwater offshore drilling, including the Deepwater Horizon’s, was “not likely to have a significant impact on the environment.”
The nonprofit environmental group also sued the Department of the Interior and its Secretary Ken Salazar.
“In violation of NEPA [the National Environmental Policy Act] and its own regulations, MMS has authorized additional categorical exclusions for over twenty exploratory wells and drilling operations in the Gulf since the April 20, 2010 blowout, with over fifteen of these exploratory wells in waters classified as ‘deepwater’ pursuant to MMS regulations,” according to the complaint.
Before the MMS granted 11 oil and gas leases, including that for the Deepwater Horizon, it issued a final environmental impact statement that estimated that in the event of an oil spill, the maximum amount spilled would be slightly over 1 million gallons – an amount already dwarfed by the continuing disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, according to the complaint.
“MMS estimated that over the 40-year life span of the eleven proposed lease sales, the total amount of oil spilled in the offshore waters of the Central Planning area, which includes the Deepwater Horizon site, would be 5,500 to 26,500 barrels of oil. … The maximum amount estimated – 26,500 barrels – is slightly over 1 million gallons, one-fourth of the current estimate of oil spilled at the Deepwater Horizon site,” the complaint states.
In applying for the lease, BP wrote in its “Exploration Plan” that it had “blowout prevention equipment” and that the “likelihood of a blowout was so remote that this possibility could be discounted entirely,” the complaint states.
BP added that “in the event of an accidental release, the water quality would be temporarily affected by the dissolved components and small droplets” but that “(c)urrents and microbial degradation would remove the oil from the water column or dilute the constituents to background levels.” BP anticipated “no adverse impact” to marine life, birds or beaches.
Defenders says that MMS granted “categorical exclusion” to BP, which meant it did not have to file an environmental impact statement. The MMS simply told BP to “(e)xercise caution when drilling.” It did not explain why BP was given the exclusion, according to the complaint.
In fact, the environmental group says, the disastrous oil spill will “drastically reduce oxygen levels in the Gulf, which will result in the loss of marine life at all trophic levels” and several hundred species are in danger, including endangered and threatened sea turtles, whales, seabirds and fish.
The Defenders of Wildlife wants the court to vacate all 27 “categorical exclusions” the MMS issued to several companies, including BP, since April 20 and to stop any more lease sales until a supplemental environmental impact statement has been prepared.
The Defenders of Wildlife’s lead counsel is Catherine Wannamaker of Atlanta.