Fishermen and Conservationists Sue U.S. Department of Interior For Illegal Waivers of Blowout and Spill Response Planning in Gulf of Mexico Disaster

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

David Guest, Earthjustice, (850) 681-0031, X 103
Robert Wiygul, Waltzer& Wiygul, (228) 990-1228
Joel Waltzer, Waltzer & Wiygul, (504) 430-0844
Cynthia Sarthou, Gulf Restoration Network, (504) 525-1528 ext. 202
Kristina Johnson, Sierra Club, (415) 977-5619

Fishermen and Conservationists Sue U.S. Department of Interior For Illegal Waivers of Blowout and Spill Response Planning in Gulf of Mexico Disaster

No blowout scenario or oil spill response produced as required

NEW ORLEANS - The Gulf Restoration Network and the Sierra Club filed a lawsuit <http://www.earthjustice.org/library/legal_docs/grn-sierra-apa-complaint.pdf>
against the U.S. Minerals Management Service for exempting oil companies
drilling in the Gulf of Mexico from disclosing blowout and worst case oil spill
scenarios, as well as formulating detailed plans for such. The groups are
represented by Earthjustice, an environmental law firm, and the New Orleans law
firm of Waltzer & Wiygul.
 
“I’ve worked for 15 years to protect and restore the beaches, wetlands and
wildlife of the Gulf of Mexico,” said Cynthia Sarthou of the Gulf Restoration
Network. “We are bracing ourselves against the environmental catastrophe this
will bring. BP's drilling disaster will
likely destroy countless victories we've won for a healthy Gulf.”
 
By law, MMS is required to include blowout and worst case oil spill scenarios
before approving exploratory offshore drilling plans.  These blow out and
worst case scenario disclosures must include the maximum volume of oil, the
maximum flow rate, the maximum duration of the blowout, and an estimate of the
time it would take to contain the resulting oil spill. 
 
For the BP Deepwater Horizon rig exploration plan, MMS approved the plan
without this required step because MMS had issued a notice to oil companies
telling them that they didn’t have to comply with those blowout and worst case
oil spill rules. Additionally, MMS was required by law to produce an analysis
of potential environmental impacts in the event of a blow-out; but failed to
take that necessary step as well.
 
“The basic problem here is that the Minerals Management Service tried to change
the law without telling anybody,” said Robert Wiygul, an environmental lawyer
involved in the lawsuit. “That’s bad policy, and the BP mess proves it’s a
disaster for the environment.”
 
This legal challenge asks the court to invalidate the MMS practice of sending
notices to oil companies informing them that they don’t have to comply with the
rules and to order review of existing offshore drilling plans that do not
comply with existing rules.
 
“This case is about lax regulation by the Minerals Management Service” said
Earthjustice attorney David Guest.  “It is actually easier to get a permit
for an offshore oil well than for a hot dog stand.”
 
“The MMS failed to protect us from the worst-case scenario of offshore drilling
and now we are watching this scenario play out before our eyes,” said Sierra
Club executive director Michael Brune. “Response to the blowout has included
desperate measures like lighting the sea on fire, pouring potent chemicals into
the water, using trash and human hair to prevent the flow of oil, and proposals
to dredge the sea and create new barrier islands. If oil companies aren't
capable of responding to a blowout, they shouldn't be permitted to drill."
 
 
“Our government clearly missed the painful engineering lessons taught by the
design failures that caused our levees to collapse in Hurricane Katrina. 
When analysis of real data is abandoned in favor of assumption, disaster is
sure to follow,”  said Joel Waltzer, a New Orleans lawyer who had lost his
home to failed floodwalls in Katrina. “Is the bottom of the ocean that
different south of Louisiana and Mississippi?”
 
ADDITIONAL RESOURCES:
 
Note to lessees: http://www.earthjustice.org/library/legal_docs/gomr-ntl-08-g04.pdf <http://www.earthjustice.org/library/legal_docs/gomr-ntl-08-g04.pdf> 

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Earthjustice is a non-profit public interest law firm dedicated to protecting the magnificent places, natural resources, and wildlife of this earth, and to defending the right of all people to a healthy environment. We bring about far-reaching change by enforcing and strengthening environmental laws on behalf of hundreds of organizations, coalitions and communities.

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