The Coast Guard is crying foul at BP's statement this week announcing the end of active cleanup efforts to remove oil that reached Gulf Coast shorelines after the disastrous 2010 spill.
Coast Guard Capt. Thomas Sparks, who coordinates the federal response to the BP spill, said in an emailed statement he was "shocked with the tone and theme of BP's press release."
"BP does not speak for the Coast Guard, and we are a long way from the response being complete or for business as usual," Sparks said.
The semantic squabble began late Tuesday after the Coast Guard changed the way it is handling three miles of Louisiana coastline where oil consistently turns up.
The Coast Guard opened case files with the National Response Center to address reports of oil in those regions, moving the matter from the specifically tasked Gulf Incident Management Team that has overseen the cleanup, said Petty Officer First Class Michael Anderson, a spokesman for the management team.
"From the Coast Guard's point of view, we're still doing active cleanup operations," Anderson said in an interview with the Houston Chronicle. He said about 1,000 reports to National Response Center in the past six months triggered cleanup actions, and that the process is "far from over."
The Coast Guard said it began routine inspections Thursday and expects to continue cleaning up the shores, and that moving the cases to the National Response Center is standard procedure in spills. The change also allows the Coast Guard to reduce the footprints of its teams patrolling delicate shoreline environments, Anderson said.
Four years ago this Sunday, millions of barrels of oil spilled from BP's Macondo well into the Gulf of Mexico and spread to shore, prompting a cleanup effort spanning more than 770 miles of beach.
The London-based oil company said late Tuesday it has spent $14 billion and about 70 million man-hours patrolling and removing oil from the coast.
"The Coast Guard today ended patrols and operations on three shoreline miles in Louisiana, bringing to a close the extensive four-year active cleanup of the Gulf Coast," BP said in the news release Tuesday evening. It said similar operations were ended last year in Florida, Alabama and Mississippi.
In its statement Tuesday, BP noted that the miles of shoreline were subject to the National Response Center process and had said it would keep resources in place to respond to reports of oil that needs to be cleared.
"We have never suggested the work of the U.S. Coast Guard or BP is over," BP spokesman Geoff Morrell said. "Our announcement Tuesday merely highlighted the end of active cleanup of the Gulf shoreline. We believe that is a very significant achievement that resulted from four years of sustained work."
Morrell said BP will keep working with the Coast Guard to remove residual oil from the shorelines.