WASHINGTON (CN) - The Secretary of the Interior illegally approved the first sale of an offshore oil and gas lease in the Central Gulf of Mexico since the environmental horrors of the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon disaster, four environmental groups claim in Federal Court.
Oceana, Defenders of Wildlife, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Natural Resources Defense Council sued the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), the Department of the Interior and their top officials, claiming the government's approval of the new lease violates the National Environmental Policy Act and the Administrative Procedure Act.
The government was expected to announce today (Wednesday) that Lease 216/222 is for sale.
"In approving this lease sale, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management violated the National Environmental Policy Act ... by relying on a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) that fails to adequately consider the impacts of the Deepwater Horizon spill; does not incorporate new analyses of the risks posed by offshore drilling, particularly in deepwater; fails to include information essential to a reasoned choice among alternatives and improperly deems missing information non-essential; and fails to assess the environmental impacts of the action using a post-Deepwater Horizon baseline for species and habitats in the Gulf despite the fact that this lease sale covers the precise area where species and habitats suffered the most damage from the Deepwater Horizon incident," according to the complaint.
When BOEM gave BP the rights to the Macondo well, where the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded, it believed that the amount of oil spilled from Macondo and the 10 other lease sales it issued would be between 5,500 to 26,500 barrels of oil over a 40-year period, the groups claim. If the maximum estimated amount spilled, that would add up to just over 1 million gallons of oil.
"BOEM also concluded that an oil spill would only be 'likely to result in sublethal impacts (e.g. decreased health, reproductive fitness, and longevity; and increased vulnerability to disease)' to marine mammals, sea turtles, and coastal and marine birds," the complaint states.
But when the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded and caught fire in April 2010, an unprecedented 4.9 million barrels of oil spewed into the Gulf, eclipsing the previous largest oil spill disaster in history, the Exxon Valdez, which spilled "only" 250,000 barrels of oil.
The environmental groups claim the government's oil-spill response methods were not as effective as the defendants thought, and were able to skim, chemically disperse or burn only 24 percent of the spilled oil.
"The response effort also resulted in unforeseen and harmful impacts to the Gulf," the groups claim. "Before the Deepwater Horizon spill, chemical dispersants had never been used in such quantities, nor in the manner in which they were employed in the Deepwater Horizon response."
The complaint states: "Over 6,100 dead coastal and marine birds, 600 dead sea turtles, and 500 dead marine mammals were collected and identified in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon spill."
The environmentalists claims that the impact statement for Lease Sale 216/222 was prepared just a few months after the disaster, and was supposed to take into consideration the effects of Deepwater Horizon, but BOEM "concluded that '[n]o substantial new information, with the exception of archaeological resources, was found that would alter the impact conclusions' presented in the pre-spill analyses."
The new lease sale will be the first issued in the area since the Deepwater Horizon Spill, and will make oil and gas leasing available across nearly 38.6 million acres, the groups say.
"In the Final SEIS, BOEM conceded throughout its discussion of environmental impacts that 'relevant information on reasonably foreseeable significant adverse impacts is incomplete or unavailable,' but stated that this information has been deemed nonessential for certain resources," according to the complaint.
The groups want a declaration that the federal government is violating NEPA and the Administrative Procedure Act, and they want the lease sale, record of decision and supplemental environmental impact statement vacated until the Secretary of the Interior complies with the law.
Their lead counsel is Sierra Weaver, with Defenders of Wildlife.