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Gulf Disaster
Businessweek, July 7, 2010

BP to Put Sea Turtle Rescuers on Oil-Burn Boats
By Laurel Brubaker Calkins

BP Plc will add trained sea turtle rescuers to all oil-spill clean up teams when controlled burning of the Gulf oil spill resumes as the weather clears, a lawyer for several wildlife advocacy groups said today.

Four environmental groups sued BP and the U.S. Coast Guard last week seeking to block the practice of corralling and burning floating patches of oil or force BP to rescue any turtles inadvertently trapped inside the burn boxes. The parties reached a tentative settlement just before a July 2 hearing in New Orleans and worked through the holiday weekend to complete details, the lawyer said.

“To keep us from rushing back to court, at a minimum BP and the Coast Guard have agreed to have an observer as part of every single burn team,’’ William Eubanks, the environmentalists’ lawyer, said in a phone interview today. “The things we asked the court for, we’ve gotten.’’

After weekend meetings with the environmental groups, the Coast Guard drafted written protocols for rescuing the federally protected species, which include Kemp’s Ridley, Loggerhead and Leatherback turtles, Eubanks said. These protocols spell out “what the observers will do and how they’ll carry out their searches,’’ he said.

The wildlife groups plan to release more details of the turtle rescue scheme after meeting by conference call this afternoon, he said. Controlled burns were suspended last week as a result of rough seas caused by Hurricane Alex and won’t resume until seas calm in three to five more days, he said.

BP Incentive

Eubanks said it is “very rare’’ for environmental activists to reach such rapid agreement with a company it has accused of breaking environmental laws, in this case the illegal “taking’’ an endangered species.

“BP had an incentive to not be seen as burning sea turtles,’’ Eubanks said. He said the groups won’t formally drop their lawsuit until they make certain BP is fully complying.

The wildlife groups contend BP has killed or injured hundreds of sea turtles through its use of controlled burns or as a result of contamination from the oil spill itself. The animals become trapped in the floating sludge when shrimp boats encircle patches with fire-resistant booms to create “burn boxes’’ 60 to 100 feet in diameter, they said.

BP didn’t immediately respond to calls or e-mails seeking comment on the turtle rescue deal.

Last week, Don Haycraft, BP’s lead lawyer in New Orleans, told the judge overseeing the lawsuit that the deal “is an example of BP, the government and outside parties reaching agreement on an issue - protecting sea turtles -- that is important to everyone.’’

BP has yet to contain a damaged underwater well that has been gushing up to 60,000 barrels of crude oil daily off the Louisiana coast since the sinking of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig in April. The case is Animal Welfare Institute et al v. BP America Inc. et al, 2:10-cv-01866, U.S. District Courts, Southern District of Louisiana (New Orleans).

--Editor: John Pickering

©2010 Bloomberg L.P.

Photo © Paul S. Hamilton