State, BP at odds over anchor removal

The war of words between the state of Louisiana and BP continues over the removal of orphaned boom anchors left in the marsh after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster response, but this time it’s in federal court.

BP filed a lawsuit Thursday against the state Department of Natural Resources in the U.S. Middle District of Louisiana in Baton Rouge asking the court to rule that DNR doesn’t have the authority to force BP to remove anchors that were left behind because federal law governs the spill response. The federal authority in the response is the U.S. Coast Guard, which has determined it would do more damage than good to remove any remaining anchors.

The lawsuit is in response to an order DNR sent BP on Aug. 21 demanding that BP remove the anchors and that the state has the authority to do so based on the Local Coastal Resources Management Act. In the lawsuit, BP says the federal government has “forbidden what the state government purports to require.”

“The lawsuit we filed today is based on the latest in a series of inexplicable decisions by the State of Louisiana,” Geoff Morrell, head of U.S. communications for BP, said in an emailed statement. “Given their arbitrariness, the department’s decisions smack of nothing more than political gamesmanship seemingly calculated to mislead the public and gain some sort of litigation advantage.”

However, the state responded that it does have the authority to make BP remove those anchors and it’s a responsibility the company should fulfill.

“These anchors are abandoned, serve no purpose in the cleanup efforts now and are hazards to navigation and boaters,” DNR Secretary Stephen Chustz said in an emailed statement. “Because of these public safety threats, DNR ordered BP to remove the anchors based upon authority granted to the agency under the Coastal Resource Management Act.”

In 2010, booms were placed around interior islands and along shorelines to try to prevent oil from the Deepwater Horizon from getting to coastal areas. After the initial response was over, much of the boom and anchors used to secure that boom in place were removed, but a number of the anchors were either lost or buried in sediment.

“After carefully evaluating a host of complex technical factors regarding safety and environmental impact, federal officials have concluded firmly that these ‘orphan anchors’ should not be recovered because doing so poses an unacceptable risk to the environment,” according to the lawsuit. The state asked the federal government to reconsider, but the federal government refused.

The topic of “orphan anchors” has been a reoccurring topic of discussion at numerous state Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority meetings as the state has repeatedly expressed frustration that there was no effort to remove the remaining anchors in coastal areas.

Members of the authority have expressed concerns that these orphaned anchors will become a problem during future hurricanes in addition to posing a potential navigation hazard. At the very least, members have said, these anchors were put into Louisiana’s coast because of the oil leak, and the responsible party for that disaster needs to remove the anchors.

However, in a response to questions in August about the orphaned anchor issue, the U.S. Coast Guard said a study was done in 2011 to examine options of what do with an estimated 1,700 remaining anchors along the coast, most of which were buried by feet of sediment.

“At this depth, the risk of damage to personal and commercial vessels is extremely low,” according to the Coast Guard’s response.

The conclusion the study came to was that it was likely the anchors would go deeper into the sediments rather than being pushed onshore and that the material they were made of posed no environmental harm.