EPA sued over dispersants used in BP oil spill

Center for Biological Diversity, the Surfrider Foundation, and Pacific Environment are suing the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Coast Guard. The three environmental groups complain the government doesn't know enough about the effects of chemical dispersants used to break up big oil spills like the Deepwater Horizon.

Two years ago this Friday, the Deepwater Horizon exploded and sank. In the months that followed nearly five million barrels of oil gushed into the gulf. Back then a lawyer for the Center for Biological Diversity filed notice of intent to sue the EPA and the Coast Guard over the impact of chemical dispersants used in the cleanup.

This week, almost two years to the day of the spill, the suit was filed.

"I guess it was on the anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon spill. We figured a couple of years had been enough," said Miyoko Sakashita from the Center for Biological Diversity.

The environmental groups want the government to study the long term impacts.

"If we're trying to protect wildlife, we're trying to protect our sea turtles and our whales and dolphins from an oil spill, we want to make sure that the techniques we're using, such as dispersants, have that impact," said Sakashita.

At the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, Gary Andersen, Ph.D., heads the ecology department and was in the gulf working on the clean up when the dispersant COREXIT was pumped down to the well head.

"And that ended up actually being a very good decision," said Andersen.

Andersen says a large fraction of the oil never made it to the surface, where it would have been a threat to birds and other wildlife. Instead, it broke up and was eaten by bacteria.

"The bacteria surrounded these droplets and ate them at a pretty rapid rate," said Andersen.

Andersen agrees that more study of long term effects is needed, but the timing of the lawsuit is curious because of something that's happening many thousands of miles from the gulf.

Next month, Shell Oil could begin drilling test wells in the Chukchi Sea. The Arctic drilling plan initiated under the Bush administration has been carried forward by the Obama administration. And lawyers for the Center for Biological Diversity are fighting it.

Matthews: In terms of this lawsuit is this part of a strategy to slow it down?
Sakashita: Yes, stopping drilling in the arctic is a very high priority, but we're also concerned definitely about the impact on our coasts here in California and the Gulf Coast where there is oil drilling.

The Berkeley scientists who were working on the BP spill in part because of a $500 million grant from BP to the university. But microbial ecologist Gary Andersen assures me, that money hasn't compromised the integrity of the lab or its findings.

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