Environmental Organizations Say Federal Agencies Neglected to Consider Large Oil Spills in Report

Conservation groups, including the Sierra Club, the Center for Biological Diversity, Friends of the Earth, and the Turtle Island Restoration Network claimed in a District of Maryland complaint filed on Wednesday that the federal government has ignored the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion in its assessment of environmental harm from offshore drilling. 

The complaint was filed against the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and Chris Oliver, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s assistant administrator. The NMFS reportedly issued a biological opinion addressing oil and gas activities in the Gulf of Mexico authorized by the federal government in the next 50 years. The gulf is reportedly the “epicenter” of the United States’ offshore oil and gas industry. 

The plaintiffs claim that this activity is harming the environment and that the defendants in their recent programmatic biological opinion, the report the lawsuit is based on, did not take into account endangered species and environmental impacts, specifically noting the Deepwater Horizon oil drilling rig which exploded in 2010. 

Damage from the oil spill in question could reportedly be seen from space. The complaint said, “The spill contaminated over 43,000 square miles of surface waters and over 1,300 miles of shoreline. Recent research indicates that toxic concentrations of invisible oil spread through the water column across an even larger area, extending past the Florida Keys and along the Atlantic Coast of Florida. Scientists estimate the spill killed or seriously harmed billions, if not trillions, of animals, including over 100,000 individuals of species listed as threatened or endangered.”

The plaintiffs reportedly demanded that the government entities provide a new biological opinion which factors in the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. They claimed that the defendants violated the Administrative Procedure Act and the Endangered Species Act, which requires federal agencies to not jeopardize endangered species or destroy their habitats, through omitting it and the possibility for large oil spills from the report. 

They argued that the NMFS should not just consider visible oil spills, but also oil that can’t be seen with the “naked eye.” Because the defendants did not take into account the potential for oil spills, they reportedly also did not fully consider how it impacts climate change, including considering how increased hurricane activity would impact the facilities and cause additional spills. 

The plaintiffs, represented by Earthjustice, asked the court to declare the report from the NMFS “arbitrary and capricious and contrary to law” and vacate it with an order to provide a “sufficiently protective biological opinion” within six months.