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Food Safety News
May 17th, 2010

Food & Water Watch Sues Feds for Ignoring Problems at Operating BP Platform

Launches “Spill the Truth” Campaign, Puts MMS Under Scrutiny to Close BP Atlantis Platform Amid Safety Concerns

“Catastrophic Operator Errors” Could Be Next Gulf Disaster

New Orleans, La.—National consumer advocacy group Food & Water Watch filed suit today in a Houston federal court seeking a temporary injunction to halt operations of BP’s massive Atlantis oil drilling platform until critical safety documents are produced.

The agency, along with a former BP document controls subcontractor, maintains the Department of the Interior has allowed BP Atlantis to operate without documented, approved final engineering drawings considered critical to safe operation.

The organization also kicked off a related advertising campaign today to put public pressure on the Obama Administration to shut down BP Atlantis until proven safe.  The television ad is featured at

Oil gushing from Horizon has already surpassed the 10.8 million gallon Exxon Valdez spill, according to news reports. A worst-case scenario oil spill from Atlantis would be many times larger than the spill from the Horizon explosion and exceed the Exxon Valdez spill within just two days, according to Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch.

“BP Atlantis is a ticking time bomb,” Hauter said.  “As clean-up continues in the Gulf, we need to act to prevent a larger disaster looming. Given that we have repeatedly asked regulators to act to solve the Atlantis safety crisis, it’s outrageous that nothing has been done yet.”

“We are moving quickly with legal action to prevent a disaster.  We will show that MMS has failed in its duty to ensure these increasingly complex deepwater platforms are operating safely,” said Mikal C. Watts, the attorney representing the plaintiffs. “Given the impending threat of this year’s hurricane season, the situation presents an emergency warranting immediate action and swift attention,” he added.

After Food & Water Watch brought the matter to Congress’s attention last year, representative Raul M. Grijalva (D-AZ) and 18 other members of Congress sent a letter to the MMS calling for an investigation into the platform. In response, the agency said it would conduct an investigation starting in March 2010.

In documents recently released to Food & Water Watch in response to a Freedom of Information Act request, the MMS indicated that the agency had not and would not take any steps to investigate. In addition to the lawsuit, the organization is now calling on President Obama to close the platform immediately until it can be proven to operate safely, to order a review of all deepwater platforms in operation, and to overhaul offshore drilling regulations.

In August 2008, BP contractor Kenneth Abbott notified his superiors that Atlantis lacked proper and legally-required “as built” final engineering documents for critical subsea components. He later took his concerns to the BP Ombudsman’s office. According to a letter last week from Watts to DOI Secretary Ken Salazar, “These critical documents are necessary for the safe operation and maintenance of the Atlantis Project and do not exist.  Such documents include “as built” documents for risers, piping and instrument diagrams (P&IDs), safety shutdown systems logic (SSS logic) diagrams.

An internal BP email written in August 2008, characterized the situation as having the potential for “catastrophic Operator errors.”

In February 2010, BP sent a letter to Congress saying that it only learned of the allegations recently and claimed they were unsubstantiated. Recently surfaced BP documents would later reveal, however, that BP had known about these problems for years.

“We believe that the Deepwater Horizon spill was not a freak accident,” said Hauter. “We only know about Atlantis. But are there other platforms in the Gulf operating under similar unsafe circumstances? The public deserves to know.”

Contact: Kate Fried, Food & Water Watch: (202) 683-2500; kfried(at)fwwatch(dot)org.

Food & Water Watch works to ensure the food, water and fish we consume is safe, accessible and sustainable. So we can all enjoy and trust in what we eat and drink, we help people take charge of where their food comes from, keep clean, affordable, public tap water flowing freely to our homes, protect the environmental quality of oceans, force government to do its job protecting citizens, and educate about the importance of keeping shared resources under public control.