Suit: Feds ignore risk of huge spills to endangered species

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2010 AP

FILE - In this Monday, April 26, 2010, aerial file photo taken over the Gulf of Mexico, weathered oil is seen near the coast of Louisiana from a leaking pipeline that resulted from the explosion and collapse of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig a week earlier. Environmental groups have asked a federal court to toss out the government's assessment of oil and gas activity's likely effects on endangered species in the Gulf of Mexico. A lawsuit filed Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2020, says the report doesnt consider the likelihood of another catastrophic oil spill like BP's Deepwater Horizon spill of 2010. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, File)

NEW ORLEANS – Environmental groups asked a federal court Wednesday to throw out the Trump administration’s assessment of oil and gas activity’s likely effects on endangered species in the Gulf of Mexico, saying it dismisses the chance of another disastrous blowout like the BP spill of 2010.

The National Marine Fisheries Service's 700-page analysis greatly underestimates both the likely number and size of oil spills, according to the suit filed by Earthjustice for the Sierra Club, the Center for Biological Diversity,Friends of the Earth, and Turtle Island Restoration Network.

Even though the study was prompted by the 2010 spill, it “essentially pretends the Deepwater Horizon spill never happened — that there was nothing to learn from that disaster,” Earthjustice attorney Chris Eaton said in an interview Tuesday.

The federal agency said it left the possibility of an extremely large spill like BP's out of its calculations of likely effects because a Bureau of Offshore Energy Management analysis found little chance of another during the next 50 years.

The previous analysis, in 2007, also estimated that “such a large spill was extremely unlikely,” the lawsuit noted. That analysis had estimated that “the largest spill possible would be at most 15,000 barrels," or 630,000 gallons (2.4 million liters).

The 2010 spill, which started with a blowout that killed 11 men, was hundreds of times bigger than that. Estimates of the amount of oil spewed into the Gulf for 87 days varied from from nearly 176 million gallons (666 million liters) to less than 103 million gallons (390 million liters). A federal judge calculated damages based on 134 million gallons (507 million liters) in the Gulf.

The chance of such a spill is even higher now, the lawsuit said, because "Gulf drilling is moving into deeper waters, which increases the possibility of a catastrophic well blowout and extremely large oil spill."

The study also failed to consider the increased frequency, due to climate change, of hurricanes that can severely damage oil and gas facilities, nor did it take into account recent research about the danger of underwater landslides that can cause extremely large oil spills, the lawsuit said.