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Suit Filed Six Years After Tragic Offshore Oil Spill Began

WASHINGTON— Six years exactly after the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, killing 11 people and unleashing the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history, the Center for Biological Diversity today sued the federal government for continuing to allow waivers of environmental review for offshore drilling. In 2011 the Deepwater Horizon commission recommended significant revisions to this use of “categorical exclusions” from environmental review, which effectively fast-track drilling projects.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Washington, D.C., challenges the U.S. Department of the Interior’s unacceptable delay in improving its environmental review of offshore drilling that threatens our oceans, climate, wildlife and coastal communities — a failure that deprives the public of vital information about the dangers of offshore drilling.

“The Deepwater Horizon disaster should have been a deafening wake-up call that we need to transition away from drilling in our oceans,” said Kristen Monsell, a Center attorney. “Instead the Obama administration continues to rubber-stamp offshore drilling permits with no meaningful environmental review, setting the stage for another catastrophe.”

Today’s suit comes nearly six years after the Center filed a legal petition urging Interior to amend its regulations for permitting offshore oil and gas drilling to ensure comprehensive review at every stage of the process. Since then President Obama’s Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling cited the “systemic” breakdown in Interior’s environmental review procedures as a key cause and called for fundamental changes.

Yet Interior is now authorizing oil companies to use toxic drilling practices like offshore fracking in the Gulf of Mexico without thoroughly studying them. Offshore fracking blasts water and industrial chemicals into the seafloor at pressures high enough to crack geologic formations and release oil and gas; scientists say fracking increases the risk of oil spills and earthquakes and that fracking chemicals can poison people and wildlife.

“The fact that Interior is allowing oil companies to frack where the Deepwater Horizon disaster happened adds insult to injury,” Monsell said. “The best way to insure against future disasters is to stop authorizing offshore drilling and keep these dirty fossil fuels in the ground. Until then Interior has a moral and legal obligation to ensure dangerous offshore drilling receives careful environmental review.”

Last month more than 45 organizations, including the Center, filed a petition calling on President Obama to align U.S. energy policy with his climate goals by ending new oil and gas lease auctions in federal waters — including the Arctic, Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico.