Obama Administration Surrenders E-mails About Gulf Oil Disaster
November 24, 2010: Ted Bridis / Associated Press (AP) via Yahoo News – November 24, 2010
WASHINGTON – The Obama administration Wednesday defended the integrity of its estimates — which turned out to be inaccurate — during the summer of how much oil spilled in the Gulf of Mexico, turning over thousands of pages of internal e-mails written by government scientists who worked on the project.
The e-mails hint at uncertainties in the estimates. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, for example, was “concerned about the level of certainty implied in the pie and cylinder charts.” Another e-mail noticed that a pie chart in a draft of the government’s report wasn’t actually round: “A pie chart pretty much has to round to 100,” wrote NOAA spokeswoman Jennifer Austin.
In other messages, U.S. Geological Survey scientists acknowledged they relied on BP to report how much oil it collected and said estimates of amounts skimmed from the ocean’s surface were a “rough calculation” based on reports of oily water.
The head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Jane Lubchenco, cautioned a colleague about how to present the government’s findings: “I believe we owe it to everyone to provide the best estimates we can where direct measurements are not possible,” she wrote. “We also need to be forthright about how certain we are about each number, which we’ve done.”
The e-mails were obtained by The Associated Press under the Freedom of Information Act. U.S. officials clearly understood the possible economic consequences of their findings. Anticipating a question in August at an upcoming news conference, a NOAA spokeswoman asked scientists, “What impact, if any, will this report have in determining BP’s financial liability for this spill?” The answer: The U.S. can fine BP up to $4,300 per barrel of oil that leaked, whether that oil was cleaned up or ultimately evaporated.
The document release Wednesday by the Commerce Department, NOAA’s parent agency, was significant because it revealed for the first time that e-mails circulated among scientists working behind the scenes on the forecasts of oil in the Gulf. The government released 5,817 pages of files late in the afternoon on the eve of Thanksgiving, traditionally a period when few people are paying attention to news reports because of holiday travel.
Measuring the spill accurately was important to decide how to respond appropriately and to the administration’s credibility. But the government didn’t arrive at a reliable estimate until June 15, nearly two months after the disaster began with the explosion and fire aboard the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig. “The public has a right to know right now what is going on in the Gulf of Mexico, and your report should be analyzed by others right now so that we are sure we got it right,” Markey told Bill Lehr, a senior NOAA scientist who defended the government’s estimates during congressional testimony.
The presidential commission investigating the oil spill concluded last month in an interim report that government mistakes on its estimates led to perceptions that it was incompetent or not candid about the oil spill. It said federal officials underestimated the amount of oil flowing from the runaway well, then also underestimated the amount of oil that had spilled in the Gulf. Early calculations by private researchers, whom BP PLC, the oil company that held the leaking well, and the government tried to discredit, proved to be more accurate.
The panel also previously criticized statements by President Barack Obama’s energy adviser, Carol Browner, who mischaracterized on national TV the government’s analysis about where the oil went, saying it showed most of the oil was “gone.” In a new study published Tuesday, the government itself acknowledged that its oil calculations were never intended to “provide information about the impact of the oil, nor indicate where the oil is now.”
The newly disclosed documents also described leaks and accidental disclosures. Administration officials were plagued at times by leaks and inadvertent Internet postings. Dan Leistikow at the Energy Department urgently sought access in June to high-resolution video of the runaway well that had already aired on CNN, which he said was “probably leaked from someone.”
In another e-mail, Lehr threatened to resign from the government’s team after the inadvertent disclosure of names of nongovernment scientists who were helping in the crisis. “We as government officials have betrayed the trust these gentlemen placed in us,” Lehr wrote to the head of the Geological Survey, Marcia McNutt.
Revelation 8: Gulf Oil Catastrophe
The Tonka Report Editor’s Note: I will never relent on my coverage of this crime against the Gulf! – SJH
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Link to original article below…
Written by Steven John Hibbs
November 24, 2010 at 8:22 pm
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