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Environment: New Gulf oil leases challenged in court

A massive oil slick from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil disaster spreads across the northern Gulf of Mexico, visible in this NASA satellite image as a sheen on the surface.

Conservation coalition says feds are ignoring painful lessons of Deepwater Horizon oil disaster

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — New deep water drilling plans in the Gulf of Mexico won’t go forward without a legal test, as a coalition of environmental groups last week challenged the Department of Interior’s decision to proceed with new permits without fully addressing the risks to wildlife and the environment.

While drilling regulators believe they have developed a robust new set of safety and environmental regulations, the conservation community thinks otherwise, claiming in the lawsuit that the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management dismissed the lessons learned during the Deepwater Horizon disaster and failed to obtain essential information about the status of species and resources still suffering from the 2010 oil spill.

The heavyweight lineup of conservation groups includes the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Center for Biological Diversity, an organization that has a successful track record of showing that the government doesn’t always meet its obligations under federal environmental laws.

“BOEM is continuing the same irresponsible approach that led to the oil spill and harm still being felt in the Gulf today,” said Catherine Wannamaker, the senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center who represents the groups in court. “Before selling new leases at ground zero for the Gulf oil spill, the government ignored critical information about the spill’s impacts.”

“Failing to fully analyze the effects of the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster and the potential of future spills before moving forward with drilling in the Gulf of Mexico is asking for another drilling catastrophe,” said Sierra Weaver, senior staff attorney at Defenders of Wildlife. “If the government isn’t going to act in the interests of the region’s wildlife, natural habitats and coastal communities, we will.”

“It is reckless for the government to continue oil and gas lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico,” said David Pettit, senior attorney with NRDC. “Without new and fully tested procedures in place to guard against future blowouts and improve post-spill containment and cleanup systems, we are risking a repeat of the BP disaster two years ago. Increased drilling and exploration coupled with possible new oil spills would wreck havoc on an ecosystem that has a tenuous grip on existence.”

“Federal regulators still haven’t learned from their mistakes,” said Deirdre McDonnell, a senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Even with hundreds of endangered sea turtles dead, the administration is plowing ahead with business as usual and squandering this crucial opportunity to safeguard the Gulf’s wildlife. The name of the regulatory agency has changed but, sadly, not much else has since the biggest oil spill disaster in U.S. history.”

The Southern Environmental Law Center complaint, filed on behalf of Oceana, Defenders of Wildlife, Natural Resources Defense Council and the Center for Biological Diversity, challenges BOEM’s decision to accept bids from oil and gas companies for new leases in the Gulf of Mexico as part of Lease Sale 216/222.

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