Global environmental challenges
Walruses in Louisiana? Eyebrow-raising details of BP’s spill response plan
Louisiana walruses? Seals swimming along the Gulf Coast?
These creatures normally live in the Arctic Ocean, not the Gulf of Mexico, but they’re listed as “sensitive biological resources” that could be affected by an oil spill in the area in a document filed by BP last June with the U.S. Minerals Management Service. More than a month after BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig blew out and sank on April 20, the British oil giant’s regional spill response plan drew some severe criticism from the watchdog group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.
One problem with BP’s nearly 600-page spill response plan? “It was utterly useless in the event of a spill,” Jeff Ruch, PEER’s executive director, said by telephone. His group, which acts as a kind of safe haven for government whistle-blowers, detailed what it called “outright inanities” in BP’s filing and the government’s approval of it.
PEER noted BP’s plan referred to “sea lions, seals, sea otters (and) walruses” as wildlife that might be affected in the Gulf of Mexico, and suggested this reference was taken from a previous plan for Arctic exploratory drilling, where these animals could be affected.
The BP plan lists a Japanese shopping and search website as a link to one of its “primary equipment providers” for rapid deployment in the event of a spill in the Gulf of Mexico. And it directs its media spokespeople never to make “promises that property, ecology or anything else will be restored to normal.”
Ruch said the plan contains no information about tracking sub-surface oil plumes from deepwater blowouts or preventing disease transmission to captured animals in rehab facilities, a serious risk after the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill.
The section on “worst case discharge” estimates a maximum spill of 177,400 barrels in the Gulf of Mexico. A panel of U.S. experts estimated that as of May 17, there were at least 130,000 barrels of oil on the surface of the Gulf of Mexico and a similar amount had been skimmed off the surface or evaporated, making a total of at least 260,000 barrels from the Deepwater Horizon spill. As of May 27, the broken well was still leaking.
Photo credits: REUTERS/Stringer (Walrus swims in the pool at Moscow’s zoo, February 28, 2001)
REUTERS/Hans Deryk (U.S. veterinarians bathe a brown pelican at Fort Jackson Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in Buras, Louisiana, May 15, 2010)