Lawsuit to Unravel Varying BP Spill Estimates

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Kate Hornyan (202) 265-7337

Lawsuit to Unravel Varying BP Spill Estimates

Paper Trail Explaining Starkly Different Leak Rate Numbers Yet to Surface

WASHINGTON - The Obama administration is hiding the memos and e-mails behind
official scientific assessments of the size of the massive BP oil spill
in the Gulf of Mexico, according to a lawsuit filed today by Public
Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).  Estimates of the
leak rate inexplicably rose five-fold amid reports that political
appointees sought to low ball the size of the spill.

The controversy concerns the National Incident Command's Flow
Rate Technical Group which, among other tasks, was charged with
developing an independent estimate of the amount of oil flowing from
BP's leaking oil well.  Marcia McNutt, Director of the Interior
Department's U.S. Geological Survey, chaired the Technical Group.  On
May 27 2010, Dr. McNutt issued a public statement that the "Best
Estimate" range of flow rates was between 12,000 to 19,000 barrels per
day (bpd) but she -

  • Omitted the fact that these were minimum estimates
    (deleting phrases such as "at least" and "range of lower bounds") and
    did not mention completed estimates that were much higher. 
    Significantly, the Technical Group was supposed to look at worst-case,
    catastrophic scenarios to help gauge needed resources and tactics for
    spill response;
  • Withheld the actual technical report and instead released only a summary that she wrote; and
  • Directed that none of the Technical Group documents was
    subject to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and that group members
    should not disclose any materials.

Ultimately, the oil leak rate has been measured in the new
well cap system to be 55,000 bpd, a daily flow rate that had diminished
over time, starting at about 62,000 bpd.  These numbers were much higher
than the previously released figures - a disparity that has yet to be
explained. 

On July 6, 2010, PEER requested the release of all of the
Technical Group papers, including directives from Dr. McNutt and other
Interior political appointees but virtually none of these materials has
been released.  Today, PEER filed suit in federal district court in
Washington, D.C. claiming that hundreds of pages of reports and
communications are being withheld in violation of FOIA.

"This lawsuit will produce Exhibit A for the case that
science is still being manipulated under the current administration,"
stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that promised
scientific integrity safeguards which would have prevented or exposed
political interference in this arena are still not in place more than a
year after the deadline imposed by President Obama.  "Our concern is
that the administration took, and is still taking, steps to falsely
minimize public perception about the extent and severity of the BP spill
- a concern that the administration could start to dispel by releasing
these documents."

A similar controversy is brewing about the "Oil Budget"
released by the administration which estimates that 75% of the BP oil
spill has dissipated or been removed but the scientific methodology, let
alone the actual studies, behind this conclusion has yet to be
disclosed.

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Read the PEER complaint

See the McNutt May 27 press statement

Note the delay in enacting promised scientific integrity policies

Look at the NOAA Oil Budget estimates

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Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) is a national alliance of local state and federal resource professionals. PEER's environmental work is solely directed by the needs of its members. As a consequence, we have the distinct honor of serving resource professionals who daily cast profiles in courage in cubicles across the country.

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