The Deepwater Horizon offshore oil drilling platform exploded in the Gulf of Mexico in the evening hours of April 20. The rig, under contract to British Petroleum (BP) since late 2007 and considered one of the largest and most sophisticated in the world, sank in 5,000 feet of water approximately 50 miles off the cost of Venice, Louisiana, wreaking environmental havoc in the Gulf and surrounding coastlines.
By mid-June, the disaster in the Gulf had surpassed the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill. By early July, it was the worst non-deliberate oil discharge in world history (eclipsed only by 1991’s intentional, war-related dumping of oil into the Persian Gulf). An estimated 35,000 to 60,000 barrels of oil flooded into the Gulf of Mexico daily–the higher estimate equal to an additional Exxon Valdez spill every 4–5 days. BP’s gross lack of emergency preparedness and failure to follow prudent operating procedures have been catastrophic.
When reports surfaced from shrimp boat captains and others that they were being blocked from rescuing endangered sea turtles who were being burned alive during “controlled burns” of the gushing oil, the Animal Welfare Institute took action. On June 30, AWI, joined by three other groups, filed suit against BP for burning critically endangered sea turtles in the Gulf of Mexico, in violation of the Endangered Species Act and other federal laws. The suit was subsequently amended to add the US Coast Guard as a defendant.
On July 2, BP and the Coast Guard reached an interim agreement with AWI and the other plaintiffs whereby BP and the Coast Guard instituted standard operating protocols for the search, rescue and rehabilitation of sea turtles during burn operations, and convened a group of scientists to determine the necessary elements of final protocols to ensure the safety of the turtles. On July 15, BP employed an experimental cap to staunch the flow of oil, followed by a permanent seal in early August. Meanwhile, clean-up and rescue efforts continue. Should the resultant protocols not serve to protect turtles, we won’t hesitate to resume our efforts in court.