TUCSON, Ariz.— Presidential panel reports released today raise troubling questions about the Obama administration’s response to the Gulf disaster, including claims that the White House early on blocked federal scientists from telling the public about the potential magnitude of the spill. According to reports, the government stood by initial spill estimates backed by BP, ignoring independent scientists and others who said the flow was almost certainly greater than 5,000 barrels a day.
Ultimately, scientists concluded that the well was leaking about 60,000 barrels per day. By the time it was capped in July, more than 200 million gallons of oil had spilled during the country’s worst environmental disaster.
“The American people had a right to know the magnitude of this spill from the very beginning,” said Peter Galvin, conservation director for the Center for Biological Diversity. “Embracing low-ball estimates not only slowed the response to this disaster but also downplayed how much potential damage it could inflict.”
One of the papers released today by the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling said, “[T]he federal government created the impression that it was either not fully competent to handle the spill or not fully candid with the American people about the scope of the problem.”
The reports also question an Obama official’s claims in August that 75 percent of the spilled oil “was now completely gone from the system.” Rosy estimates such as that one have since been soundly dismissed by scientists outside the federal government.
“Independent scientists have provided important, urgent information about the spill from the beginning, but the government seemed to ignore them at every turn,” Galvin said. “To this day, there’s a disconnect between what the scientists are saying and what the government is saying about how much oil remains and how bad the damage has been.”
The Obama administration has signaled that it plans to lift the ban on deepwater drilling in the coming weeks. The government continues to ignore its own data on the dangers of offshore operations, including that drilling in shallow waters is every bit as hazardous as drilling in deep water.
“Rather than lift the moratorium, the government needs to expand the moratorium to include all new offshore drilling in shallow waters,” Galvin said. “The nightmare in the Gulf should serve as a wake-up call not only for how to respond to a spill but to the fundamental problems that put oceans at risk every day from offshore drilling.”