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BP Told to ‘Scale Back’ Dispersants in Gulf, EPA Says

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson
Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson, listens during a Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing on the federal response to the recent Gulf of Mexico oil spill in Washington. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

BP Plc will be ordered by the U.S. to immediately reduce the amount of dispersant chemicals used to break up oil from a spill in the Gulf of Mexico, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson said.

The Obama administration wants the company to “ramp down” the amount of chemicals to “no more than is necessary, especially at the surface,” Jackson said on a conference call with reporters.

The U.S. must ensure that enough dispersant is available a month from now should the spill worsen, Jackson said. Using chemicals to break up the oil and reduce harm to the coasts is an “environmental tradeoff,” she said. The effects on aquatic life remain unknown, Jackson said.

Jackson said BP’s use of dispersant under water means the company needs less on the surface. “We expect to see a substantial reduction” in overall chemicals used, she said. Jackson estimated that the cut could be 50 percent to 80 percent while the EPA conducts independent tests and seeks a “better choice” of dispersant.

BP has applied the chemicals at a “world record” rate, Jackson said. The EPA administrator said the decision to use dispersants was the toughest she’s ever made.

U.S. officials asked BP last week to find a dispersant less toxic than Nalco Holding Co.’s Corexit oil. About 785,000 gallons of chemicals have been applied so far, according to BP and government officials.

EPA Not Satisfied

EPA wasn’t satisfied with BP’s response to the U.S. request, which Jackson said showed BP was more interested in fighting to keep using Corexit than switch. BP told the agency in a May 20 letter that the chemical it is using is a “better choice” for subsea application than other alternatives.

The company has not found anything less toxic, as effective or sufficiently available as alternatives to Corexit, Doug Suttles, BP chief operating officer for exploration and production, said today on a conference call.

BP is working “through all the options” with the EPA, company spokesman Mark Salt said today. “We continue to work very closely with the EPA.”

So far, application of subsea dispersants is breaking up the oil below the surface and shows no “measurable” ecological impacts, said Jackson, who is in Louisiana as part of the administration’s efforts to monitor the spill.

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