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Questions arise on chemical use in oil spill

August 1, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
BP is facing harsh criticism from congressional investigators who say the company is using an excessive amount of chemical dispersant.Investigators are rallying against the oil giant as well as the Coast Guard for liberal use of the toxic dispersant chemicals due to the unknown expense of sea life.

Authorities said that the Coast Guard routinely approved BP's requests to use thousands of gallons of the chemical per day to break up the oil in the Gulf, despite a federal order to use the chemical sparingly.

Documents show that the Coast Guard approved 74 waivers over a 48-day period after the Environmental Protection Agency order was handed down.

Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., released a letter Saturday that said instead of complying with the EPA restriction, "BP often carpet bombed the ocean with these chemicals and the Coast Guard allowed them to do it."

A BP spokesperson said that the company has worked "hand in hand" with the Coast Guard and the EPA on the use of the chemical since the spill began in April.

"Furthermore, we've complied with EPA requests regarding dispersants, which are an EPA-approved and recognized tool in fighting oil spills," said BP spokesman Daren Beaudo.

Coast Guard officials have yet to comment on the situation. The chemical dispersant was effective at breaking up the oil into small droplets to be consumed more easily by bacteria, but the long-term effects to aquatic life are unknown. That environmental uncertainty has led to several spats between BP and the government over the use of dispersants on the surface and deep underwater when oil was spewing out of the well.

Latest Developments:

  • A temporary lid has successfully capped the gusher for more than two weeks. Engineers are planning to start as early as Monday on an effort to help plug the well for good.The procedure, dubbed the static kill, involves pumping mud and possibly cement into the blown-out well through the temporary cap. If it works, it will take less time to complete a similar procedure using a relief well that is nearly complete. That effort, known as a bottom kill, should be the last step to sealing the well.
  • Before the static kill can take place, however, debris needs to be cleared from one of the relief wells. The debris fell in the bottom of the relief well when crews had to evacuate the site last week because of Tropical Storm Bonnie.
  • BP is trying to move forward from the disaster, which sent anywhere from 94 million to 184 million gallons of oil spewing into the Gulf, announcing once the cap was finally in place that its vilified chief executive, Tony Hayward, would be leaving in October.
  • The are other signs of change in the Gulf. State waters closed by the spill have slowly reopened to fishing, most recently in Florida, where regulators on Saturday reopened a 23-mile stretch of Escambia County shoreline to harvest saltwater fish. The area was closed June 14 and remains closed to the shrimp and crab harvesting pending additional testing. Oysters, clams and mussels were never included in the closure. In Alabama, the Department of Public Health lifted all swimming advisories for the Gulf of Mexico. BP chief operating officer Doug Suttles planned a boat tour of recovery efforts Sunday off Venice, La.
  • The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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