Millions of gallons of oil continue to spew into the Gulf of Mexico, now reaching Alabama’s beaches in a toxic soup mixed with chemical dispersants. The dispersants — primarily Corexit 9500A from the oil-industry company Nalco, have been administered on the surface and at the blown out wellhead at the bottom of the sea by BP, unnamed subcontractors, and the federal government since April 26.
On May 15, after a few test runs, the Environmental Protection Agency approved the regular use of subsea dispersants, which had never been done before and whose impacts are unknown. BP has now injected 380,000 gallons of Corexit at the wellhead.
On May 20, the Environmental Protection Agency directed BP to stop using Corexit and find a less toxic dispersant, but BP refused, saying there were no alternatives available at the vast quantities needed for this catastrophic discharge.
On May 26, the EPA and Coast issued a new directive, saying that BP “shall eliminate the surface application of dispersants” unless approved by the Rear Admiral James Allen, the Federal On-Scene Coordinator, and “be limited to a maximum subsurface application of dispersant of not more than 15,000 gallons in a single calendar day,” with “an overall goal of reducing dispersant application by 75% from the maximum daily amount used.”
A Wonk Room analysis of information released by the oil disaster command center found that the May 26 directive has not been followed — 120,000 gallons of dispersant have been used at the surface, total use is only down by 25 percent, and on Sunday, June 6, BP used 33,000 gallons of subsea dispersant, more than twice the allowed amount.
After notified of this discrepancy by the Wonk Room on Thursday, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) responded the next day that BP blamed “mechanical difficulties” but “do not expect it to happen again”:
BP informed the Federal On-Scene Coordinator (U.S. Coast Guard) they experienced mechanical difficulties that resulted in them applying more subsea dispersant than they intended to several days last week. They claim they have fixed this problem and do not expect it to happen again, and EPA will continue to monitor their usage to ensure BP complies with our directive and does not exceed the limits set forth in that directive without prior written approval from the FOSC.