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Lawsuit claims turtles are dying in BP oil burns

By Michael Kunzelman
Associated Press Writer / July 1, 2010

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NEW ORLEANS—BP's practice of burning off spilled oil in the Gulf of Mexico is probably killing endangered sea turtles, several wildlife protection groups claim in a federal lawsuit.

The lawsuit filed Wednesday by the Animal Welfare Institute and other groups asks U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier to restrict BP's controlled burns of oil. The crude started gushing after the April 20 explosion on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig that killed 11 workers.

William Eubanks, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said it is a "virtual certainty" that turtles have been caught and burned alive in the corrals that BP PLC is using to capture and burn oil.

The groups filed a sworn statement by a charter boat captain who says he has observed BP's controlled burns and is "almost certain" that turtles were stuck in the "burn boxes."

"I can't show you a burning body," Eubanks said.

BP spokesman Mark Proegler said the company has tried to avoid accidentally burning turtles, using crews in boats to look for turtles before oil is burned. He said they can stop the burns if any turtles are spotted.

The notion that turtles may have been accidentally burned is "appalling," Proegler said.

"That would never be done intentionally," he said. "I can't say for sure we've never burned any, but every effort is taken to avoid that."

Barbier is scheduled to hear arguments Friday on the groups' request for a temporary restraining order.

The lawsuit accuses BP of violating the Endangered Species Act.