Press Release | May 25, 2010

BP to be sued over harm to endangered species


• The Southern Environmental Law Center and Defenders of Wildlife today notified BP that they would file suit against the company for the unauthorized take of endangered species caused by the continuing oil spill and use of dispersants.

• The oil gushing from BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig directly imperils 32 threatened or endangered species such as the sperm whale, gulf sturgeon, manatee and five kinds of sea turtles (leatherback, loggerhead, green, hawksbill, and Kemp’s ridley), as well as the waters, coastal wetlands and National Wildlife Refuges that many of these species call home.

• Endangered species are also adversely affected by the chemical dispersants BP has applied to the Gulf in response to the continued release of oil resulting from the Deepwater Horizon blowout.

• The Endangered Species Act prohibits the “take” of endangered species. The ESA defines “take” as meaning “to harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect, or to attempt to engage in any such conduct.”

• The Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service have interpreted “harm” as meaning “an act which actually kills or injures fish or wildlife. Such an act may include significant habitat modification or degradation where it actually kills or injures fish or wildlife by significantly impairing essential behavioral patterns including breeding, spawning, rearing, migrating, feeding or sheltering.”

The following are statements from Defenders of Wildlife and Southern Environmental Law Center:

Mike Senatore, vice president for Conservation Law at Defenders of Wildlife: “BP must be held accountable for the grave threat posed to sea turtles, whales, seabirds and other endangered wildlife as the result of the Deepwater Horizon disaster. Not only does the oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico pose an immediate and long-term threat to endangered wildlife in the Gulf of Mexico, but the company’s unprecedented application of chemical dispersants poses additional risks.”

Catherine Wannamaker, attorney for Southern Environmental Law Center:
“We’re concerned about the oil-covered wildlife that we may see onshore, but we’re also extremely concerned about what’s happening below the surface of the Gulf of Mexico. This is shaping up as an unprecedented disaster for the people and wildlife of the Gulf. From plankton to endangered sperm whales to fishermen, BP has put an entire ecosystem at risk and must be held accountable.”


The notice of intent letter sent today by the Southern Environmental Law Center and Defenders of Wildlife outlines both immediate and long-term exposure concerns for the well-being and survival of endangered species caused by the continuing oil spill and use of dispersants. The Gulf of Mexico is home to numerous endangered and threatened species all of which face acute and/or chronic risks from the Deepwater Horizon disaster including: five species of whale (blue, fin, sei, humpback, and sperm); five species of sea turtle (green, hawksbill, leatherback, Kemp’s ridley, and loggerhead); seven species of beach mice (Alabama, Choctawhatchee, Anastasia, St. Andrew, Southeastern and Perdido Key); seven species of bird (piping plover, roseate tern, whooping crane, Mississippi sandhill crane, Everglade snail kite, wood stork, and least tern); four species of fish (gulf sturgeon, Alabama sturgeon, pallid sturgeon and smalltooth sawfish); two species of coral (elkhorn and staghorn); Florida salt marsh vole; and the West Indian manatee. Several hundred species in the Gulf are at risk of being harmed by the oil from this spill, including several endangered and threatened sea turtles, whales, and seabirds. Already there is reason to believe that species such as seabirds, turtles, and dolphins may have been affected and even killed by the spill. Oil has begun to appear in the coastal wetlands used by seabirds and other species, and much of the marine life in and around the Gulf Coast has been exposed to oil and thus likely will experience its toxic effects.

Marine mammals are further imperiled by the release of other contaminants into the environment in connection with oil development. Regarding the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster, additional contaminant risk is posed by dispersants used to break up the oil. By BP’s own account, it has mobilized a third of the world’s supply of dispersants, including Corexit. Dispersants can cause genetic mutations and cancer, further adding to spill toxicity.

On May 17, 2010, Defenders of Wildlife and the Southern Environmental Law Center filed suit challenging the Minerals Management Service’s (MMS) continued lax oversight of oil drilling operations. The lawsuit details MMS’ failure to require a thorough examination of spill risks from exploratory drilling operations like the Deepwater Horizon—eight of which would be at even deeper depths than the well currently spilling oil into the Gulf. It also seeks to prohibit the MMS from continuing to exempt from environmental review new exploratory drilling operations in the Gulf of Mexico. At the same time, Defenders of Wildlife and the Southern Environmental Law Center also notified MMS that they would file suit for violations of the Endangered Species Act related to insufficient analysis of the impacts of exploratory drilling on threatened and endangered species.

About Defenders of Wildlife
Defenders of Wildlife is dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities. With more than one million members and activists, Defenders of Wildlife is a leading advocate for innovative solutions to safeguard our wildlife heritage for generations to come. For more information, visit

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Press Contacts

Kathleen Sullivan

Senior Communications Manager (NC)

Phone: 919-945-7106
Email: [email protected]

Catherine Wannamaker

Senior Attorney with a focus on litigation

Phone: 404-521-9900