Coalition Petitions EPA to Update Proposed Rule on Dispersant Use

oil spill
Environmentalists are petitioning the EPA to amend a proposed rule on how to respond to oil spills such as the one in the above photo. File photo by U.S. Coast Guard.

A coalition of Gulf Coast advocates and environmental entities is petitioning the Environmental Protection Agency to supplement its proposed rule on dispersant use of oil spill response, a rule that hasn’t been updated since it was proposed in January 2015.

The proposed rule would allow unlimited amounts of toxic dispersants to be used for unlimited durations on the sea surface and in the deep sea, which is what happened in response to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil disaster on April 20, 2010.

One of the largest marine oil spills in history, the Deepwater Horizon incident was caused by the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico, some 41 miles off the coast of Louisiana, and the subsequent sinking of the oil rig two days later. Four million barrels of oil flowed out of the damaged well over an 87-day period before it was finally capped after about two months.

The 25 signers, from the Gulf Coast to Alaska, include Pam Miller of Alaska Community Action on Toxics and Miyoko Sakashita of the Center for Biological Diversity.

Another of the signers of the petition is Riki Ott, director of Earth Island Institute’s ALERT Project. Ott said there has been a sea change in scientific understanding of how chemically dispersed oil behaves in the environment since the rule was proposed in 2015 and how it causes long-term harm to people and wildlife.

“Current science calls for a radical rethinking of dispersant use on the surface and in the deep sea,” Ott remarked.

EPA is under court-supervision to complete a final rule on dispersant use by May 31, 2023. The court order did not specifically require that EPA update its proposed rule based on scientific information available subsequent to the 2015 proposed rule.

One of the later victims of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster was Frank Stuart, who ran a company of oil spill response workers in Louisiana that contracted to oil company British Petroleum during the disaster. Stuart, 65, died of acute myeloid leukemia, a rare blood cancer linked to exposure to oil spills.

Also, a former BP contract safety officer during the 2010 disaster, Terry Odom, was recently diagnosed with asthma, the blood disorder microcytosis, and chronic kidney disease — illnesses associated with oil spill exposures.

The coalition noted that there has also been a dramatic increase of rare diseases and cancers association with oil exposures in children and adults.

The coalition’s petition said that failure by the EPA to take current science into account would be a dereliction of its duties under the Clean Water Act.