NEW ORLEANS (AP) — As BP inched closer to permanently sealing the blown-out well in the Gulf of Mexico, congressional investigators railed the company and Coast Guard for part of the cleanup effort, saying too much toxic chemical dispersant was used.
The investigators said the U.S. Coast Guard routinely approved BP requests to use thousands of gallons of chemical a day to break up the oil in the Gulf, despite a federal directive to use the dispersant rarely. The Coast Guard approved 74 waivers over a 48-day period after the Environmental Protection Agency order, according to documents reviewed by the investigators. Only in a small number of cases did the government scale back BP's request.
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."
BP did not immediately return a phone call and a spokesman for the Unified Command Center in New Orleans did not have an immediate comment.
While the chemical dispersant was effective at breaking up the oil into small droplets to more easily be consumed by bacteria, 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 water's surface and deep underwater when oil was spewing out of the well.
A temporary cap has held the gusher in check for more than two weeks, and engineers were 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.
Companies working to plug the disaster for good are also engaged in a billion-dollar blame game. But the workers for BP, Halliburton and Transocean say the companies' adversarial relationship before Congress isn't a distraction at the site of the April 20 rig explosion, where Transocean equipment rented by BP is drilling relief wells that Halliburton will pump cement through to permanently choke the oil well.
"Simply, we are all too professional to allow disagreements between BP and any other organization to affect our behaviors," Ryan Urik, a BP well safety adviser working on the Development Driller II, which is drilling a backup relief well, said in an e-mail last week.