EPA Justifies Use of Dispersants, Calls for Reduced Use
Under mounting criticism, EPA Administrator Jackson and Coast Guard Rear Admiral Mary Landry held a media press briefing today to explain their continued support for oil dispersants, but called for their reduced use and called on BP to continue to look for less toxic alternatives, adding that the decision to cease their use underwater is the sole purview of the EPA and Coast Guard, and not BP.
Last week, the federal government ordered British Petroleum find other remedies beyond Corexit, the highly toxic dispersant it is using to break up oil from the massive Deepwater Horizon wellhead blowout, now estimated by some sources to be gushing up to 70,000 barrels per day of crude oil or higher.
The Administrator expressed her dissatisfaction with BP's response to last weeks order and again called on them to explore other, less environmentally harmful dispersants. Additionally, the EPA has set up an extensive water and air quality monitoring system with the data being posted to on the EPA web site as soon as its been collected and analyzed. Ongoing monitoring by the government and university research vessels in the Gulf indicate the wellhead dispersant does -- for the moment -- appear to be helping reduce the amount of oil rising to the surface, acting much the way vinegar does to salad oil, breaking it up into small droplets, that the goverment believes will break down sooner.
While questions remain about the toxic effect of this practice on marine organisms, early tests are showing a 90% survival rate of one class of phytoplankton when exposed to concentrations of oil and dispersant found in the seawater along the water column. The Administrator hopes that the use of any dispersants can be cut in half and possibly by as much as 75 percent, but added that at this point, it's the only way to deal with the spreading oil slick once seas rise above 4 feet, when mechanical booms prove ineffective and controlled burns impossible.
Rear Admiral Landry cautioned that there is still concern there could be a major collapse at the wellhead with catastrophic consequences. She noted that, so far, the government has spent some $750 million and employed the efforts of some 24,000 people to tackle the problem. She assured the media gathered for the telephone conference that the government is keeping close tabs on its expenses, which are currently being paid from an oil spill contingency fund and that BP will be billed for all expenses incurred by the government and its contractors.
Following brief statements by Administrator Jackson and Rear Admiral Landry, selected members of the media, including the Washington Post, LA Times, Times Picayune, New York Times and Wall Street Journal, were permitted to ask questions. The featured MP3 recording is of those questions and the officials' answers. It is some 20 minutes in length.