White House Accused of Withholding Key Info on BP Spill


Screengrab via Video from WhiteHouse.Gov

There's been a well-documented gray area surrounding the cooperative operations of BP and federal governmental agencies in the response to the Gulf spill. Questions were raised about press access, for instance, as the government seemed to be abetting BP in restricting media access to sensitive or potentially embarrassing spill-impacted sites. Later, there was the NOAA's report that 75% of the oil had vanished -- such fine news for BP that many deemed it too good to be true. And it was. Now, concerns that the Obama administration was and is working with BP to minimize the PR damage done by the spill are coming to a head -- two green groups have directly accused federal agencies of withholding data. Here are the allegations:First, the National Wildlife Federation has alleged that the Obama administration is failing to provide accurate numbers on wildlife casualties, especially sea bird deaths. Second, the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility is charging that the administration is keeping key information about the spill -- specifically related to the flow rate early on.

the Obama administration still faces a big trust gap over its handling of the spill, with environmentalists and scientists growing more vocal about their suspicions that the US public is being spun ...

Fishy Figures in Wildlife Casualties
Here's what led to the breach in trust over the wildlife figures. The Guardian reports:

Conservation groups had been pushing officials to provide a breakdown of the types of birds caught up in the spill: brown pelicans, laughing gulls, northern gannets. But the numbers which FWS handed over on Wednesday, 10 days after an original deadline had passed, turned out to be 40% lower than the rolling tally posted each day on the Deepwater Horizon Response website.

The FWS report listed only 4,676 affected birds up to 14 September, while the latest FWS figures on the Deepwater Horizon response site on the same date listed 7,996 birds. On further scrutiny, it turns out the FWS tally was not up to date. But the low number left an impression that the FWS was trying to play down the effects of the spill on wildlife.

The Guardian spoke with Doug Inkley, a senior scientist for the NWF, who said, "I don't have a problem with releasing partial data. What concerns me is that they represented it as complete.I think both BP and the federal government have had a very strong resistance to giving out information."

I'm split in my reaction to this case -- if there was a rolling tally on one publicly available source monitored by the government, then it could very well stand to reason that bureaucratic mismanagement or miscommunication was to blame in the F&W; Service coming up with the wrong numbers. And how much more outraged would the public really be at learning 8,000 birds had perished, rather than 5,000? It does seem fishy, and odd, but my gut leans towards ineptitude and over-caution being the culprits rather than deceit. But that's just my gut. And the other charge is far more serious ...

Withholding Spill Data?
Here's the Guardian again:

On Thursday, Peer accused the US Geological Survey of hiding hundreds of pages of reports and internal memos related to the work of a group of technical experts who were charged with producing an authoritative estimate of the flow rate from BP's ruptured well. Peer's director, Jeff Ruch, said in a statement: "Our concern is that the administration took, and is still taking, steps to falsely minimise public perception about the extent and severity of the BP spill."
This, if true, is a flagrant offense, and would be a severe infringement on the public's right to get the best and most accurate information about the spill. It's pretty well agreed-upon at this point that the omnipresent 5,000 barrels a day figure the government supported was laughable. But if it turns out that the federal government had information proving otherwise, and they refuse to disclose it for the sake of saving face -- that would be a most serious offense indeed. PEER has sued the government to get access to the paper trail to those early assessments, so we may soon find out.

More on the BP Spill
What, Exactly, is BP Hiding from Reporters?
The BP Gulf Oil Spill By the Numbers
BP Contractors and Coast Guard Prevent CBS From Filming Oil Spill
Breaking Down the BP Gulf Spill Blame Game

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