May 21, 2010 -- Though the Environmental Protection Agency demanded Thursday BP find a "less toxic" dispersant to battle the oil spill in the gulf, a top BP executive said today the dispersant the company is using was approved by the EPA, is working well and is the best dispersant available.
"The EPA had to approve and the Unified Command and the Coast Guard had to approve the use of that product. It is approved and in fact we've been using it and it has been effective," BP chief operating officer Doug Suttles told "Good Morning America" today. "It's making a difference in this fight to try and keep this stuff from coming to shore."
Though Suttles said BP will continue to search for a better alternative, he said "right now we cannot identify another product that is available that's better than [dispersant] Corexit." His statement brings into question whether BP will comply with the EPA's deadlines for replacig Corexit.
In a statement Thursday, the EPA gave BP 24 hours to find a "less toxic" dispersant and 72 hours to start using it. For weeks, BP assured the government that using Corexit was safe, with officials describing them like soap suds. But on Thursday others painted a far more sinister picture.
"Any living organism that contacts this stuff, particularly the mixture of dispersant and oil, is at significant risk of acute mortality," said marine biologist Rick Steiner.
In fact, EPA testing released Thursday indicates that where the dispersant had been used, 25 percent of all organisms living at 500 feet below the surface died.
"I haven't seen any evidence to show that," Suttles said today. "We're doing extensive monitoring as is NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) and the EPA. What we're trying to do is make sure this oil doesn't meet the shoreline... We do have some tradeoffs here."
BP has already dumped 700,000 gallons of the dispersant into the sea, and prior to the EPA's announcement, the company defended its use of Corexit after questions were raised about a corporate connection between BP and Nalco, the maker of the product.
In a statement to ABC News Thursday, BP called the chemical "one of the most well-studied dispersants" and said it chose Corexit in part because it could "get a sufficient supply to meet our needs on short notice."
BP Denies Purposeful Misleading of Spill Estimates
Suttles also defended the company's initial estimation that 5,000 barrels of oil a day were spewing into the gulf, after live underwater video of the spill prompted Energy and Environment Subcommittee of the Energy and Commerce Committee chairman to call BP's guess "dead wrong."
"Today, BP is claiming that they are siphoning off 5,000 barrels a day," he said Thursday. "But if you look at the video you can see plumes of oil spilling into the Gulf far in excess of 5,000 barrels a day. These videos stand as a scalding, blistering indictment of BP's inattention to the scope and size of the greatest environmental catastrophe in the history of U.S."
As much as 40,000 to 100,000 barrels a day could be leaking into the water, Tim Crone, a marine geology expert at Columbia University, said Thursday.
"From the beginning we've worked with the government on this estimate... That is not just BP's estimate. That was the estimate of the Unified Command including NOAA and the Coast Guard.
Suttles comments come just a day after Rep. Edward J. Markey, D-Mass., called the spill the "greatest environmental catastophe in the history of the U.S."
Obama administration officials sent a letter Thursday to BP's CEO saying that the company had "fallen short" in its duty to keep the public and government officials informed about the spill.
"In responding to this oil spill, it is critical that all actions be conducted in a transparent manner," wrote Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and EPA administrator Shelia Jackson.
"We're fighting this thing as best we can," Suttles said. "We've mounted the largest response we've ever done in the world... I understand the anger, [but] I don't know of anything, absolutely anything else that we could be doing."
ABC's Sunlen Miller contributed to this report.