Last updated: May 25, 2010 12:45 am

BP told to rein in use of chemicals

The Environmental Protection Agency ordered BP on Monday to “significantly scale back” its use of chemical dispersants in the Gulf of Mexico, amid fears their use at unprecedented depths could lead to unanticipated ecological damage.

Lisa Jackson, the agency’s administrator, also called BP’s response to questions on the toxicity of chemicals being used in the Gulf oil spill “insufficient”, saying the British oil company seemed more concerned about justifying its earlier decisions than analysing current options.

The watchdog was caught in a trade-off between the damage that could be caused by oil and by chemicals, she said. “Dispersants continue to be the best of two very difficult choices,” Ms Jackson told reporters on Monday. “The number one enemy is oil.”

Tensions between the EPA and BP have been mounting, as the Obama administration comes under growing pressure to step in to staunch the month-old leak, despite not having the oil industry’s technology. “To push BP out of the way, it would raise the question, to replace them with what?” asked Admiral Thad Allen, the Coast Guard commandant leading the spill response.

The White House may release new estimates of the size of the spill as soon as Thursday. BP believes the well to be leaking 5,000 barrels a day but some scientists and engineers, after studying video of the leak, have said it could be exponentially larger.

The EPA ordered BP last week to come up with a list of less toxic chemicals than the two varieties of Corexit, which it is now using, to break up the oil.

The oil company has sprayed more than 700,000 gallons of the dispersant on the sea’s surface and pumped more than 60,000 gallons underwater near the leaking well. BP said it would not change the dispersants, saying Corexit was effective and safe.

Ms Jackson said the EPA would continue to allow BP to use Corexit for now.

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