Lawsuit Settled Today in New Orleans

NEW ORLEANS – BP and the U. S. Coast Guard have committed to protecting sea turtles from incineration in oil burning operations in the Gulf to settle a lawsuit with environmentalists. In an interim agreement that will be finalized on Tuesday, July 6, BP and the Coast Guard have agreed to clearing burn boxes of sea turtles and placing wildlife observers on board every vessel. No burning will occur over the weekend due to hazardous weather conditions.

“This is a victory against BP’s worst and most callous act against sea turtles and ocean life since the oil spill started,” said Todd Steiner, Executive Director of Turtle Island Restoration Network. “At least now sea turtles struggling in the oil have a chance of rescue and recovery. But sea turtles are still dying every day due to the spill, and we should not have to file lawsuits to get BP to put wildlife protection first.”

By the terms of the interim agreement, BP and the Coast Guard stipulate that they will be ceasing burns until next week because of the weather. When the burns resume, the plaintiffs will be notified if there is a qualified biologist present for the purpose of locating and removing any turtles.

BP and the Coast Guard have further agreed to establish a standard operating protocol for the burns, and to convene a group of scientists to determine the necessary elements of the protocol to ensure the safety of the turtles. In exchange for these measures, Turtle Island Restoration Network and the other plaintiffs in the suit have agreed to withdraw their request for a Temporary Restraining Order calling for an immediate halt to the burns. The underlying suit, however, will remain in place.

“Finally, I can sleep again knowing the sea turtles are not being burned alive,” said Carole Allen, Gulf Director of Turtle Island Restoration Network in Houston, Texas. “Now we need an emergency plan to get sea turtles out and away from the oil slick into safe waters so we don’t lose an entire generation.”

The law firm of Meyer Glitzenstein & Crystal, acting on behalf of Turtle Island Restoration Network and conservation partners, negotiated the interim agreement with BP and the U.S. Coast Guard. The agreement was presented in federal court today to the Honorable Carl Barbier of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, who is presiding over the case.

The lawsuit was filed early this week seeking a temporary restraining order against BP for killing and harming sea turtles in violation of its offshore oil drilling lease on behalf of Turtle Island Restoration Network, Center for Biological Diversity, Animal Welfare Institute, and Animal Legal Defense Fund.

In an effort to contain the massive oil spill, BP is conducting “controlled burns,” that involve using shrimp boats to create a corral of the oil by dragging together fire-resistant booms and then lighting the enclosed “burn box” on fire. The “burn boxes” are approximately 60 to 100 feet in diameter. Endangered sea turtles, including Kemp’s ridleys, that inhabit the Gulf of Mexico are also being caught in the corrals being created by BP. This fact has been confirmed by Obama administration wildlife officials at National Marine Fisheries Service. The turtle burning was exposed by shrimp boat captain Michael Ellis, whose comments were videotaped.