BP [official website; JURIST news archive] is balking at an US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) [official website] order issued Thursday directing it to find an alternative dispersant [press release] to address the Deepwater Horizon oil spill [official website] in the Gulf of Mexico. The agency Saturday released BP's response [text, PDF] to the directive [text, PDF] ordering the oil company to find a "less toxic and more effective dispersant" to combat the spill within 24 hours and begin using it within 72. Dispersants are chemicals that are used to break oil down into small droplets causing it to become more easily degradable. BP is using the dispersant Corexit 9500 [EPA chemical details] both on the surface of the spill and underwater at the source of the oil leak. BP said that it had found five possible alternatives, but stood by its decision to use Corexit 9500, saying it was a "better choice" for underwater use and had fewer long term effects. BP also said it already had a sufficient supply of Corexit and did not know whether it could obtain adequate quantities of any other chemical immediately. Portions of the response were redacted because BP cited it as confidential business information. The EPA is concerned about the environmental impact of Corexit 9500 because BP is using the dispersant in "unprecedented volumes" and because "much is unknown about the underwater use of dispersants." The EPA has not yet released a response to BP's refusal to stop using Corexit. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson [official website] returned to the Gulf Coast [Reuters report] Sunday to continue monitoring response efforts.
On Friday, President Barack Obama signed an executive order establishing an independent commission to investigate offshore drilling and this most recent oil spill [JURIST report]. The commission will identify the causes of the spill and develop options to help prevent future incidents. The spill was a result of an oil well blowout that caused an explosion 5,000 feet below the surface of the Gulf. The amount of oil spilled into the Gulf is still unknown and part of an ongoing debate, however the resulting oil slick has covered at least 2,500 square miles. The damage from the blowout is expected to be in excess of $8 billion [JURIST comment].