NWF Urges Attorney General to Consider Gulf Gas as Well As Oil

Including Gas in Gusher Tally Raises Potential Penalties by 50 percent

08-25-2010 // Miles Grant
Oil burning in Gulf of Mexico

The National Wildlife Federation and the Natural Resources Defense Council sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder today urging him to hold BP and other parties accountable for both the oil and hydrocarbon gas spilled in the Gulf of Mexico gusher.

While attention has focused almost exclusively on the millions of barrels of crude oil spilled, the discharge and effect of large quantities of hydrocarbon gases like methane and propane have been virtually ignored.

“To hold BP fully accountable for the impacts of the Gulf disaster, the Department of Justice needs to calculate civil penalties by combining both the oil and gas discharges – a total that’s 50 percent higher than the oil alone,” said John Kostyack , executive director for wildlife conservation and global warming with the National Wildlife Federation. “While the public’s attention has been focused mainly on oil, both the Oil Pollution Act and Clean Water Act make it clear that penalties should consider both oil and gas.”

When calculated in equivalent units of weight, the magnitude of discharged oil plus gas is equal to one and a half times the oil alone. In other words, if 172 million gallons (4.1 million barrels) of oil were discharged into U.S. waters, the total discharge in barrel of oil equivalents (oil plus gas) was actually more than 252 million gallons (6 million barrels).

“While it will take time to fully understand the effects of the Gulf disaster, we’re deeply concerned about hydrocarbon gas discharge because so much of it will dissolve into the water before reaching the surface,” said Dr. Ian MacDonald, professor of oceanography at Florida State University. “These effects may include neurological damage and death for fish and other marine life.”

Examples of a cause and effect relationship between large natural gas releases and mass fish mortality were found in the early 1980s in what is now Ukraine. Accidental gas blowouts in the Sea of Azov in 1982 and then again in 1985 significantly impacted flounder and sturgeon populations, resulting in impaired movement, weakened muscle tone, and cell membrane damage.

“Even if microbes work to degrade the hydrocarbon gases, they’ll be competing for oxygen and other nutrients with microbes attacking oil,” said Dr. Lisa Suatoni, senior scientist with NRDC’s Oceans Program. “That could significantly affect the overall degradation process.”

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