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For Immediate Release, May 5, 2010

Contact: Kierán Suckling, (520) 275-5960

Interior Department Exempted BP Drilling From Environmental Review:

In Rush to Expand Offshore Oil Drilling, Interior Secretary Salazar Abandoned Pledge to Reform
Industry-dominated Mineral Management Service

TUCSON, Ariz.— Ken Salazar’s first pledge as secretary of the interior was to reform the scandal plagued Mineral Management Service (MMS), which had been found by the U.S. inspector general to have traded sex, drugs, and financial favors with oil-company executives. In a January 29, 2009 press release on the scandal, Salazar stated:

“President Obama's and my goal is to restore the public's trust, to enact meaningful reform…to uphold the law, and to ensure that all of us -- career public servants and political appointees -- do our jobs with the highest level of integrity."

Yet just three months later, Secretary Salazar allowed the MMS to approve — with no environmental review — the BP drilling operation that exploded on April 20, 2010, killing 11 workers and pouring millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. The disaster will soon be, if it is not already, the worst oil spill in American history.

BP submitted its drilling plan to the MMS on March 10, 2009. Rather than subject the plan to a detailed environmental review before approving it as required by the National Environmental Policy Act, the agency declared the plan to be “categorically excluded” from environmental analysis because it posed virtually no chance of harming the environment. As BP itself pointed out in its April 9, 2010, letter to the Council on Environmental Quality, categorical exclusions are only to be used when a project will have “minimal or nonexistent” environmental impacts.

MMS issued its one-page approval letter to BP on April 6, 2009.

“Secretary Salazar has utterly failed to reform the Mineral Management Service,” said Kierán Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity. “Instead of protecting the public interest by conducting environmental reviews, his agency rubber stamped BP’s drilling plan, just as it does hundreds of others every year in the Gulf of Mexico. The Minerals Management Service has gotten worse, not better, under Salazar’s watch.”

As a senator, Salazar sponsored the “Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act of 2006,” which opened up large swaths of the Gulf of Mexico to offshore oil drilling and criticized the MMS for not issuing enough offshore oil leases. As interior secretary, he has pushed the agency to speed offshore oil drilling and was the architect of the White House’s March, 2010, proposal to expand offshore oil drilling in Alaska, the eastern Gulf of Mexico, and the Atlantic Coast from Maryland to Florida.

After meeting with Gulf oil executives early this week, Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) told the Washington Post: “I’m of the opinion that boosterism breeds complacency and complacency breeds disaster. That, in my opinion, is what happened.” The boosterism started at the top, with Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. 

Excerpts from the BP drilling plan that was categorically excluded from
environmental review by the Department of the Interior:

2.7 Blowout Scenario - A scenario for a potential blowout of the well from which BP would expect to have the highest volume of liquid hydrocarbons is not required for the operations proposed in this EP.”

14.5 Alternatives - No alternatives to the proposed activities were considered to reduce environmental impacts.”

14.6 Mitigation Measures - No mitigation measures other than those required by regulation and BP policy will be employed to avoid, diminish or eliminate potential impacts on environmental resources.”

14.7 Consultation - No agencies or persons were consulted regarding potential impacts associated with the proposed activities.”

14.3 Impacts on Proposed Activities - The site-specific environmental conditions have been taken into account for the proposed activities and no impacts are expected as a result of these conditions.” Wetlands - An accidental oil spill from the proposed activities could cause impacts to wetlands. However, due to the distance to shore (48 miles) and the response capabilities that would be implemented, no significant adverse impacts are expected.” (p. 45) Essential Fish Habitat - …In the event of an unanticipated blowout resulting in an oil spill, it is unlikely to have an impact based on the industry wide standards for using proven equipment and technology for such responses, implementation of BP's Regional Oil Spill Response Plan which address available equipment and removal of the oil spill.”

Visit the Center’s new Gulf Disaster website for more details:

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