BP Oil Spill: Congressman Says 'Environmental Catastrophe' Worse Than Previously Thought

Rep. Edward Markey criticized BP as EPA forces change at site of leak.

May 20, 2010, 3:41 PM

May 20, 2010— -- Real-time video of oil leaking from beneath the damaged Deepwater Horizon rig 5,000 miles under the Gulf of Mexico reveals a disaster many times greater than BP has led the American public to believe, Rep. Edward J. Markey, D-Mass., said today.

Calling the leak, the "greatest environmental catastrophe in the history of the U.S.," Markey said the video allowed independent researchers to assess the true nature of the devastation.

Many of those researchers today estimated that the real amount of oil spewing into the Gulf is many times greater than BP officials had insisted was true. As much as 40,000 to 100,000 barrels a day could be leaking into the water, said Tim Crone, a marine geology expert at Columbia University.

BP itself admitted that it is siphoning 5,000 barrels a day, the total amount that the company and the government long estimated had been leaking.

Obama administration officials today sent a letter 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.

BP began streaming the live images from the ocean floor on government websites, including the sites of the Energy and Commerce Committee and the Select Committee on Energy Independence. Availability of the live stream has been sporadic today because of high web traffic.

Click here to see the live stream at http://globalwarming.house.gov/spillcam.

"This may be BP's footage of the spill -- but it is America's ocean. What you see are real-time images of a real-world disaster unfolding 5,000 feet below the surface of the Gulf," said Markey, chairman of the Energy and Environment Subcommittee of the Energy and Commerce Committee.

"One of the major points that we should take away from this video is that the 5,000 barrels a day estimate that BP pushed all along is dead wrong," said Markey.

"Today, BP is claiming that they are siphoning off 5,000 barrels a day," he said. "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."

"Scientists have now found at least one plume underwater that is 10 miles long [and] 3 miles wide," Markey said. "That is beneath the surface and it could be heading towards that loop that could take it towards the Florida Keys and up through Palm Beach, [Fla.]."

EPA Requires BP to Use New Chemical Dispersant

Today, the Environmental Protection Agency announced that it is requiring BP to abandon the toxic and untested oil dispersant Corexit in favor of less toxic chemicals.

In a statement, the EPA said that BP would have 24 hours to find a less toxic alternative and would be required to begin using the new chemical within 72 hours of submitting the alternative.

BP has already dumped 700,000 gallons of the dispersant into the sea, and prior to the 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, 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."

For weeks, the company assured that using the dispersant was safe, with officials describing them like soap suds. But today, 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 today indicates that where the dispersant had been used, 25 percent of all organisms living at 500 feet below the surface died.

Markey called BP's use of the untested dispersant a "science experiment."

"It is very important that we not allow BP to conduct a science experiment in the oceans of the United States without the closest supervision in terms of the amount of toxic material that is put into the ocean as a way of controlling this spill," he said.

Taken together, the company's resistance to transparently supply footage of the leak and use of a toxic dispersant indicated to him that BP could not be trusted.

"I think now we're beginning to understand that we cannot trust BP. People do not trust the experts any longer," said Markey. "BP has lost all credibility. Now the decisions will have to be made by others, because it's clear that BP has been hiding the actual consequences of this spill."

ABC's Sunlen Miller contributed to this report.

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