Coast Guard Rubber-Stamped Applications as BP Provided Vastly Different Numbers to Congress, Executive Branch
WASHINGTON (July 31, 2010) – Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Chairman of the House Energy and Environment Subcommittee, today released a letter sent to National Incident Commander Thad Allen and documents revealing that the U.S. Coast Guard, tasked with limiting BP’s use of toxic dispersants during the Gulf oil spill disaster, repeatedly allowed the oil company to use excessive amounts of the chemical on the surface of the ocean.
These exemptions were granted on a daily basis despite a prior federal directive that the company cease that tactic to combat the spill except in “rare” circumstances. The exemptions were also extended to Houma Unified Command, an oil spill response center in Houma, La., which consists of U.S. Coast Guard and other personnel and reports to the Federal On Scene Coordinator.
In many cases, these applications appeared to be rubber stamped by the Coast Guard, including pre-approvals for weeks’ worth of unlimited use, as well as retroactive approvals for surface applications of dispersants for which BP failed to obtain prior permission. These actions by the Coast Guard appear to have largely undercut a directive it co-signed with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that said that dispersant chemicals be used on the ocean’s surface only in “rare cases,” and only with advance approval.
Rep. Markey's letter, based on an analysis conducted by the Energy and Environment Subcommittee staff, further showed that by comparing the amounts BP reported using to Congress to the amounts contained in the company’s requests for exemptions from the ban on surface dispersants it submitted to the Coast Guard, that BP often exceeded its own requests, with little indication that it informed the Coast Guard or that the Coast Guard attempted to verify whether BP was shooting past the approved volumes.
“BP carpet bombed the ocean with these chemicals, and the Coast Guard allowed them to do it,” said Rep. Markey. Rep. Markey has authored numerous oversight letters to EPA, the Coast Guard and the FDA related to dispersant use, and has additionally introduced H.R. 5608, legislation that would require more extensive testing of these chemicals before they are used. “After we discovered how toxic these chemicals really are, they had no business being spread across the Gulf in this manner.”
On May 17, Rep. Markey wrote to the EPA raising concerns about the use of unprecedented volumes of dispersants in the Gulf, as the chemicals had not undergone a thorough review of their toxicity or effects. Following a rapid analysis by the EPA, on May 26 the agency, along with the Coast Guard, directed BP to completely eliminate surface application of the chemicals except in “rare cases” for which exemptions had to be requested.
Yet following that directive, Rep. Markey’s analysis shows that more than 74 daily exemption requests were sent to the Coast Guard by BP and Houma Unified Command, and all of them were approved by the Coast Guard, usually within the same day, and despite concerns raised by EPA that the exemptions were being approved on a pro forma rather than rare basis, and that these approvals were occurring without the specific data and justification required.
The analysis also found that the amounts of surface dispersants used that were reported by BP to Congress and the amounts reported to have been used that were contained in BP’s requests for approval by the Coast Guard also vary widely, bringing into question whether BP was being truthful about the total amount used, and whether the Coast Guard was conducting rigorous monitoring and oversight over the company’s use of the chemical.
For example, in one approval request, one of BP’s top executives, Doug Suttles, claimed that the maximum daily application of dispersants on the surface in the days preceding June 16, 2010 was 3,360 gallons on June 12. However, an examination of the dispersant totals BP provided to congressional staff in its daily “Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill Response Updates” indicates that on June 11, BP said it applied 14,305 gallons of the chemical on the surface; on June 13, 36,000 gallons; and on June 14, 10,706 gallons.
According to publicly disclosed amounts on DeepwaterHorizonResponse.com, more than 1.8 million gallons of toxic dispersants were used to break up the oil as it came out of the well, as well as after it reached the ocean surface. The validity of those numbers are now in question.
“Either BP was lying to Congress or to the Coast Guard about how much dispersants they were shooting onto the ocean,” said Rep. Markey. “These huge discrepancies also raise the question of whether the Coast Guard made sufficient efforts to verify the information BP provided in support of its requests, and whether it exercised appropriate oversight surrounding the use of these toxic chemicals.”
Chairman Markey’s July 30 letter to the Coast Guard is available here: http://markey.house.gov/docs/07-30-10ejmtocgdispersants.pdf
Chairman Markey’s June 24 letter to the Coast Guard is available here: http://markey.house.gov/docs/06-24-10_ejm_dispersant_coast_guard.pdf
The Coast Guard’s July 15 letter to Chairman Markey is available here: http://markey.house.gov/docs/07-15-10cgtoejmdispersants.pdf
Documents related to the analysis, in chronological order:
# # #