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Speeches By EPA Administrator

 

Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, Statement on Dispersants, As Prepared

05/12/2010


As prepared for delivery.

Thank you for joining us. Last night I returned from my second trip to the Gulf Coast. I have met with local community members, government officials and local scientists. What I can tell you from those visits is that we continue to face an extraordinary challenge.

Oil is rushing into the Gulf at depths we can’t easily access. We are working with BP and convening our best minds to try and find creative solutions. We have mobilized on multiple fronts – from the drilling of the relief well to controlled burning to the further attempts to contain the leak.

This is an all hands on deck challenge, and people are working 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

We are here today to talk specifically about one of the weapons in our arsenal, the use of dispersants. Dispersants are chemicals that help break up the oil, with the goal of preventing damage in the water and mitigating the potential impacts of landfall.

At current, BP has been authorized by EPA and the Coast Guard to use dispersants on the surface of the spill. That came with specific conditions to protect the environment and the health of residents in affected areas. This is an approach we are familiar with – and a strategy we have turned to because: one, we know that when they are used on the surface, dispersants biodegrade much more rapidly than oil; and two, dispersing the oil will help reduce the amount and the intensity of oil that reaches the shores and fragile wetlands – an urgent priority at this time.

As I said, BP is authorized to use dispersant on the surface of the water. EPA is constantly monitoring air quality in the area and keeping local authorities updated on any safety concerns. The air monitoring data we're collecting is posted as it becomes available on http://www.epa.gov/bpspill.

BP has also been authorized to test the effectiveness of dispersants used below the surface. We believe that the subsurface use of dispersants could mitigate the impact of the spill without increasing the impact on human health and the environment.

That said, this is an unprecedented use of dispersants. That is why EPA has not authorized a full scale underwater use of dispersants. Instead we are rigorously testing their effectiveness. So far BP has initiated three tests. For those tests, EPA and the Coast Guard set limits on the time and the volume of use. The first two tests were inconclusive, and we are awaiting the results of the third test.

Let me be clear that no use of dispersants underwater is authorized until the test results have shown them to be effective. We absolutely must be aggressive in tackling this spill. At the same time, we will take absolute care to ensure that any efforts we take are not just substituting one challenge for another.

The effects of underwater dispersant use on the environment are still widely unknown. If it is determined to reduce the consequences of the spill and BP is authorized to continue its use, EPA and our Federal partners will require regular analysis of water and air quality. In fact, we are working to establish third-party monitoring to ensure we are getting all the information we can. We reserve the right to halt the use of subsurface dispersants if any negative impacts on the environment are seen to outweigh the benefits.

Dispersants are not a silver bullet. They are used to move us towards the lesser of two difficult environmental outcomes. Until we find a way to stem the flow of oil, we must continue to take any responsible action that will mitigate the impact of the spill. And that is what we are doing.