Use of 'toxic stew' to get rid of oil brings more trouble for BP

The Gulf of Mexico has been "carpet- bombed" with a highly toxic chemical dispersant for months on end, breaking official guidelines issued in the aftermath of April's Deepwater Horizon disaster which stated that BP should use the substance only in "extremely rare" cases, according to documents released by a US House of Representatives committee at the weekend.

BP recently admitted spraying 1.8 million gallons (about 6.8 million litres) of Corexit on the ocean during its battle to limit the damage from what is the costliest spill in its industry's history.

However, the House Energy and Environment Subcommittee said that "the validity of those figures is now in question", after learning that the US Coast Guard fast-tracked permits for the oil company to use the substance on at least 74 occasions.

"BP carpet-bombed the ocean with these chemicals, and the Coast Guard allowed them to get away with it," said the committee's chairman, Edward Markey. "[They are] a toxic stew of chemicals, oil and gas, with impacts that are not well understood... After we discovered how toxic these chemicals really are, they had no business being spread across the Gulf in this manner."

The disclosure raises the prospect that damage to marine life from the oil spill could eventually be outweighed by damage from Corexit, which is designed to break slicks into tiny droplets which can then be consumed by bacteria.

Clean-up workers say the dispersant is an invaluable weapon in the fight to prevent oil hitting the shore, where it causes the worst damage.

But some scientists say the chemical mixture, which at one point was being released at a rate of about 70,000 gallons a day, causes more harm than good, and may have contributed to huge plumes of hydrocarbons below the ocean's surface. The fact that Corexit now seems to have been so widely used also poses the question of who, exactly, is calling the shots in the Gulf.

The Obama administration issued a directive on 25 May that limited its use to all but the "rarest" of cases.

But official figures now show that every time BP subsequently asked to be allowed to use the controversial substance, the US Coast Guard, which is running the day-to-day clean-up, instantly granted a permit. The Environmental Protection Agency, which should have been overseeing the operation, was frozen out of the daily meetings at which the special permits were issued until 22 June, causing it to complain that "the approval process appears to be somewhat pro forma, and not as rigorous as the EPA desires".

The Committee's documents show that on 16 June, BP told the Coast Guard that use of Corexit had never exceeded 3,365 gallons on any recent day. Yet in emails it sent to Congress, BP admitted on 12 and 13 June it had used a total of 14,305 gallons and 36,000 gallons respectively.

BP's cap on the broken well has now prevented more oil from spilling for two straight weeks, and its engineers will today begin an effort to plug the well for good. Asked about Corexit, a spokesman said yesterday "dispersant use was pre-approved as a response tool, and approved during the response, because it is effective and, on balance, less harmful" than un-dispersed oil.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Sport
Louis van Gaal
football
Voices
An easy-peel potato; Dave Hax has come up with an ingenious method in food preparation
voicesDave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Jay Z has placed a bet on streaming being the future for music and videos
music
Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury
music
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own