Fish kill detail

Fish kill in Yscloskey, LA, courtesy of dottyoliver.

By now, the evidence is overwhelming that BP is involved in a massive effort to plug the flow of information about the continuing massive release of oil that started when the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded and sank in the Gulf of Mexico. BP has used claims that the information is proprietary and it and the government, especially in the form of NOAA, have made claims that many relevant analyses are too preliminary to release. Conveniently for BP, the net result of these claims is that disclosure of information that is damaging to the company is prevented.

Note the obstruction in obtaining accurate information on the flow rate from the leak. Here is McClatchy, reporting today:

Richard Camilli, an associate scientist in the department of applied ocean physics and engineering at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, told Markey and others on the panel that he responded to a request for help from BP on May 1 to get a look inside the failed blowout preventer.

Camilli develops instrument sensors and robotic technology to detect pollution in the ocean below the surface. He suggested using multi-beam sonar and an acoustic current profiler to measure the flow of oil and gas. That would help scientists determine if the blowout preventer was partially constricted and what happened to it, he said.

BP was at first interested, but a few days later declined the offer.

Here is the New York Times, reporting today:

Tensions between the Obama administration and the scientific community over the gulf oil spill are escalating, with prominent oceanographers accusing the government of failing to conduct an adequate scientific analysis of the damage and of allowing BP to obscure the spill’s true scope.


And the scientists say the administration has been too reluctant to demand an accurate analysis of how many gallons of oil are flowing into the sea from the gushing oil well.


Oceanographers have also criticized the Obama administration over its reluctance to force BP, the oil company responsible for the spill, to permit an accurate calculation of the flow rate from the undersea well. The company has refused to permit scientists to send equipment to the ocean floor that would establish the rate with high accuracy.

Ian MacDonald of Florida State University, an oceanographer who was among the first to question the official estimate of 210,000 gallons a day, said he had come to the conclusion that the oil company was bent on obstructing any accurate calculation. “They want to hide the body,” he said.

Here is how ABC explains the claim of proprietary information that BP is asserting:

During a series of dry-run exercises, where the U.S. Coast Guard, other agencies and oil companies practiced their response to major oil spill disasters, industry executives repeatedly pressed federal regulators to give them more say on what information would be released to the public if disaster struck.

Reports obtained in a joint investigation by ABC News and the Center for Public Integrity show oil companies targeted the potential release of "confidential" information as a key concern.

But note also the tidbit I pointed out yesterday from the five year research plan for NOAA, where NOAA is employing social scientists to help with the response to disasters, so that impacts on commerce can be minimized:

In addition, NOAA has identified the societal, economic, and cultural consequences of spills and associated response activities on affected communities as a high priority for research. Specific project topics have been identified as a result of a recent workshop where a diverse group of social and natural scientists, responders, impacted parties, and potential responsible parties worked together to delineate research needs for improved understanding and effective response to: subsistence, social impacts, response organization impacts, risk communications, and environmental ethics issues. This area of research has the potential to greatly affect commerce and transportation by revolutionizing the response organization.

As seen in this quote, NOAA is actually using social scientists to help craft a response plan which includes input from the responsible party (BP in this case) to deal with the social impact of the event, as well as the communication of risk.

That explains why NOAA is distancing itself from the discovery of subsurface plumes of oil (claiming the data are too preliminary) even though its own research points to the likelihood of them developing.

Note also the reports of BP preventing press and public reports on oil coming ashore and other impacts of the spill. Here is Karl Burkhart, one of the first to post the CBS video of reporters being turned away from a site where oil was coming ashore:

Contacts in Louisiana have given me numerous, unconfirmed reports of cameras and cell phones being confiscated, scientists with monitoring equipment being turned away, and local reporters blocked from access to public lands impacted by the oil spill. But today CBS News got it on video, along with a bone-chilling statement by a Coast Guard official: "These are BP’s rules. These are not our rules."

Interestingly, Burkart’s report got the attention of the Coast Guard, who provided him with a statement that reads, in part:

Neither BP nor the U.S. Coast Guard, who are responding to the spill, have any rules in place that would prohibit media access to impacted areas and we were disappointed to hear of this incident. In fact, media has been actively embedded and allowed to cover response efforts since this response began, with more than 400 embeds aboard boats and aircraft to date. Just today 16 members of the press observed clean-up operations on a vessel out of Venice, La.

The only time anyone would be asked to move from an area would be if there were safety concerns, or they were interfering with response operations. This did occur off South Pass Monday which may have caused the confusion reported by CBS today.

Yeah, we all know how that "embedding" process works from reporting out of Iraq and Afghanistan. Given the other reports that Burkart has on confiscation of cameras, I suspect that there are many crews in the impact area behaving just as the one on the CBS video.

Another aspect of limiting the flow of information to the public is that it would allow BP to build their own version of events more easily. BP’s history in that regard is not good. Remember the 2006 leak from a BP pipeline in Alaska? Here is an interesting report from the Seattle Times regarding BP’s behavior:

Then in March 2006, a major oil leak soiled the tundra from a corroded pipeline. BP promised it had the situation under control, but that August a second leak appeared, requiring an oil shutdown at Prudhoe Bay.

Congressional investigators learned that the crews on other major pipelines regularly sent inspection "pigs" through the lines to seek out wear and tear, but that BP had not done so since 1998.

A federal grand jury subpoenaed records from a Seattle engineering firm that had been hired by Alaska to evaluate BP’s pipeline-maintenance record. A draft report had been critical of BP, but the final version was largely complimentary. The draft was discovered during the grand jury’s investigation.

Both the engineering firm and BP maintained that no one was pressured to change the report, but coming on the heels of the Texas City refinery explosion, members of Congress were livid. Several called it a cover-up.

"They (BP) decided to quash that information from the public," said Rep. Jay Inslee, D-Bainbridge Island. He called it "a conscious, willful decision by the particular corporation involved here."

Fortunately, however, steps are being taken in an attempt to prevent a repeat of BP changing information before it is released. Attorney Brent Coon, who was the lead plaintiff’s lawyer in the BP Texas City explosion case, has filed and been granted a restraining order preventing BP changing information relating to the Deepwater Horizon explosion:

Judge Randy Wilson of the 157th District Court has granted a Temporary Restraining Order requested by a plaintiff’s firm Brent Coon & Associates, who is representing rig worker Stephen Stone in a lawsuit stemming from the Deepwater Horizon Explosion. Managing Attorney for one of BCA’s Houston offices, Arthur J. Gonzalez, filed the petition Friday morning and the hearing on the TRO was held Friday afternoon with attorneys from both the plaintiff and defendants present.

The TRO orders the defendants to “refrain and desist from changing, alteration and/or destruction of any documents pertaining to the April 20, 2010 explosion, including all information stored, held or maintained in electronic format of via the internet.” Additionally, it requires the defendants to “refrain and desist from changing, alteration and/or destruction of any and all tools, instrumentalities and/or devices which may have been used by workers, in any capacity, as well as any work authorizations or other documents indicating the status of work at the time of the event in question as well as any and all physical evidence of any kind in any way connected with the accident and/or accident scene in question.”

Since NOAA appears to be collaborating with BP in stemming the flow of information, it is fortunate that Mr. Coon and others are working to protect the meager record which exists. Getting to the truth will be a very long and hard process, fought out in courtrooms for many years.

Update: Senator Bob Menendez tells Andrea Greenspan "I have real problem believing in the credibility of BP":