U.S. environmental officials have ordered BP oil company to use less toxic chemicals to fight a growing oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. BP now admits the underwater leak is releasing more oil than it first estimated.
The Environmental Protection Agency said BP should make the change in 72 hours, and begin spraying less toxic chemicals to disperse oil in the water. So far, BP says it has sprayed 2.5 million liters of dispersant, most of it on the water's surface and a smaller amount near the source of the undersea leak.
The dispersant currently in use has been approved by the EPA, but officials expressed concern because it is being used in such large quantities.
Jane Lubchenco, head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, says the current oil leak is unique because it has continued for four weeks. "Because of that, dispersants have been used in much greater volume than ever has been the case in U.S. waters for an oil spill," he said.
Scientists from the EPA and NOAA have been conducting air and water quality tests in the Gulf of Mexico since the oil leak started four weeks ago. Some environmental groups say they worry the extensive use of dispersants will harm marine habitats and fish populations almost as much as the oil.
Experts say dispersants help to reduce the formation of heavy oil slicks, which can be lethal to sea birds and other animals that come in contact with the water's surface. BP has been using dispersants as one of several tools to combat the oil leak, including skimming and burning oil on the surface.
Meanwhile, BP confirmed the damaged well is leaking more than 5,000 barrels of oil a day into the water, as it earlier stated. Some independent researchers have said underwater video of the leak shows the flow rate could be several times higher.
NOAA administrator Lubchenco said scientists are working on several methods to produce an accurate estimate of the flow. But she says it is difficult to deploy testing equipment near the leak, because BP is using a number of remote controlled submarines to try to stop the leak. "There have been multiple efforts to stem the flow, and having lots of vehicles down there makes it more likely there will be accidents or that they will interfere with each other's activity," he said.
NOAA scientists also are launching new efforts this week to track the path of oil from the site of the leak, some 80 kilometers off the coast of Louisiana. They say an oil sheen has begun approaching a strong current in the Gulf of Mexico, which could carry oil residue for hundreds of kilometers toward Florida and nearby Caribbean nations.