Now It’s Official: Obama Administration Blocked Scientist Estimates on BP Spill

Last night, some fresh comments by Obama Administration officials confirmed its cynicism and duplicity in its Ministry of Truth version of health care reform. It’s one thing to suspect Team Obama was playing the public for a fool, quite another to have proof.

Today we have more corroboration of Obama Administration double dealing, this on the Gulf Oil leak. Recall that the executive branch was initially very slow to respond, and seemed content to buy BP’s PR on the size of the oil flow and let it take care of its own mess, despite the proximity of the well to important fishing grounds. Then as it became undeniable that the leak was serious and BP was not going to be able to halt it quickly, the Administration swung into “get tough” mode, or at least as tough as this crowd can get, which means not very. We decried the Administration negotiating with BP as an equal, and the lousy deal it cut. This looked to be classic Obama behavior redux: pretend to be aligned with the little guy, engage in some theatrics that manages to reveal unwillingness to draw on the power of the Presidential office, and cut way too generous a deal with big corporate interest.

One of the revealing parts of where Obama’s true priorities lay was in his keeping informed third parties, most important scientists, as far away from the scene of the crime as possible. Having good estimates of the size of the outflow would be critical in assessing the true cost of the disaster; not obtaining them was a sign, at best, of wildly misguided priorities (putting PR concerns over results) and at worst, a cynical belief that the Administration’s interest were not all that different from BP’s.

The fact that the Administration was keeping scientists at bay during acute phase of the oil spill was hardly secret (see here, here, here and here for a small sampling of our reports on this aspect of the leak). But having official confirmation underscores some of the glaring weaknesses of the executive team, in particular, lack of competence and resolve.

From the Associated Press (hat tip reader Doc Holiday):

The Obama administration blocked efforts by government scientists to tell the public just how bad the Gulf oil spill could become and committed other missteps that raised questions about its competence and candor during the crisis, according to a commission appointed by the president to investigate the disaster….

Among other things, the report says, the administration made erroneous early estimates of the spill’s size, and President Barack Obama’s senior energy adviser went on national TV and mischaracterized a government analysis by saying it showed most of the oil was “gone.” The analysis actually said it could still be there…

Citing interviews with government officials, the report reveals that in late April or early May, the White House budget office denied a request from NOAA to make public its worst-case estimate of how much oil could spew from the blown-out well. The Unified Command — the government team in charge of the spill response — also was discussing the possibility of making the numbers public, the report says.

The report shows “the political process was in charge and science really does not have the role that was touted,” said Christopher D’Elia, dean of environmental studies at Louisiana State University.

The AP story then has a section that is a meandering and easy to misconstrue. Basically, the OMB said it had doubts about the NOAA’s models (with all due respect, I have a pretty strong hunch the math and modeling skills at NOAA trump those of the OMB by a pretty large margin) and it made suggestions that the NOAA allegedly “happily accepted.” Ahem, this sounds like a bureaucratic coverup. And at the very end, it gets to the bottom line, many members of the scientific community disagreed with the NOAA:

Florida State University professor Ian MacDonald, who has repeatedly clashed with NOAA and the Coast Guard over the size of the spill, the existence of underwater plumes and oil in the sea floor, said he felt gratified by the report.

From the beginning, there was “a contradiction between discoveries and concerns by academic scientists and statements by NOAA,” MacDonald said in an interview with the AP at the oil spill conference.

And he said it is still going on. MacDonald and Georgia Tech scientist Joseph Montoya said NOAA is at it again with statements saying there is no oil in ocean floor sediments. A University of Georgia science cruise, which Montoya was on, found ample evidence of oil on the Gulf floor.

The Guardian has a more straightforward account, “Gulf oil spill: White House blocked and put spin on scientists’ warnings” (hat tip reader emca; this is an interesting testament to reporting disparity). For instance:

The White House blocked government scientists from warning the American public of the potential environmental disaster caused by BP’s broken well in the Gulf of Mexico, a report released by the national commission investigating the oil spill said yesterday…..

The report amplifies scathing criticism last week by the commission’s co-chairs, Bob Graham and William Reilly, of the Obama administration’s handling of the disaster.

It goes on to catalogue other lapses by the administration, including repeated underestimates of the size of the spill, and downplaying the environmental damage after the BP well was capped.

The report found particular fault with the White House energy adviser, Carol Browner, who appeared on television on 4 August and said: “The vast majority of oil was gone.”

It said Browner was overstating the findings of a NOAA analysis of the fate of the oil.

“By initially underestimating the amount of oil flow and then, at the end of the summer, appearing to underestimate the amount of oil remaining in the Gulf, the 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 report said.

An old saying is “Truth is the first casualty of war.” By this standard, the Obama Administration is in combat mode with the American public.

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      1. Moopheus

        Indeed; this is the worst part of the situation: Obama has been a massive disappointment in many significant ways, but there seems to be no viable alternative. The Republicans/TPers are all know-nothings and cretins, and the Democrats are falling all over themselves to aspire to uselessness. I for one, am not feeling optimistic.

        1. koshem bos

          There is a but here, in 2012 the Democrats can nominate a capable individual for president instead of Obama, There must be out there a excellent potential president in the many millions not devoted to complete lies (GOP) or partial lies (Obama and company).

          1. Moopheus

            Who? Yes, in theory, either party _could_ nominate someone capable, but who is there waiting in the wings who might actually do it? Who has sufficient standing to take the nomination away from the incumbent, and would also actually do a better job?

  1. Pat

    You should quote the report instead of the reports about the report. The Spill Commission actually did a great job here of having a clear, user-friendly website. The report itself is easy to ready, has copious footnotes, and says what it knows (and what it doesn’t know).

    As far as the estimate – it’s like anything else. Had Obama publicized the worst-case scenario, but it turned out that the leak was small, I suspect we’d be on his case for over-hyping the event.

    Like anything else, there was a range of estimates. Did they end up with the wrong one? Apparently. The bigger question: does it matter? From the report: apparently not, since the Feds and BP were working all-out no matter what the number was.

    So we can snipe and bitch and moan that they didn’t act perfectly in a complex, never-before-in-history event with unknown information… or we can be happy that they didn’t screw it up too badly, even with benefit of hindsight, and that this commission’s report is timely, detailed, and available to anyone who cares to read it.

  2. Omitted Kingdom

    Why not state that BP is a private corporation owned by the Rothschild family and it’s THEIR responsibility. We have to get to the point in the US where we can use nouns, chain of command, hierarchy, and ownership correctly.

    The United States government does not own one oil well; therefore, the United States government does not have the expertise to deal with an oil well disaster. Obama has nothing to do with the oil spill

  3. antipat


    …does it matter? From the report: apparently not, since the Feds and BP were working all-out no matter what the number was…

    Thanks for parroting the BP/administration line there. As a scientist and a person with a brain, it seems clear to me that it’s crucially important to understand the problem you’re trying to solve.

    I never understood BP’s claim that flow estimates were irrelevant to fixing the leak.

  4. Cynthia

    Obama has a very strong track record of putting people who create disasters in charge of fixing them. This can be seen in the way he handled the financial disaster as well as the oil disaster. This undoubtedly makes Obama an aider and abettor to many of our nation’s worst disaster capitalists. Now if we can only figure out a way to redefine those who engage in disaster capitalism, in business as well as in government, as criminals of the worst sort, up there with serial killers and serial bank robbers, then we can say with a great degree of confidence that the rule of law has finally made its way back into the US. But until then, the US is well on its way to becoming a full-blown lawless state no different from Sudan or Somalia!

  5. mikefromArlington

    Speaking of oil.

    Can someone explain why oil is going up while people like Goldman are predicting a stagnant economy ’till 2014.

    Where is the disconnect?

    Are the oil markets being manipulated again like in the Summer of 08?

    1. earnyermoney

      Ever heard of Benny and the Ink Jets?

      The dollar is being manipulated by the Obama administration via the Federal Reserve. Pull up a chart of commodities. The price of commodities is inversely related to the price of the dollar.

  6. i on the ball patriot

    I think it is time to get into the zeitgeist and reforge the terms at use here …

    When you use the term, ‘the Obama Administration’ and ‘the Administration’, you inadvertently dignify and legitimize the deflective ruse that turns attention away from the real controlling puppet masters, and, at the same time you enhance the illusionary notion of citizen control of government …

    Its not the ‘Obama Administration’ or the ‘Administration’!

    Its the sell out fake “Puppet Left” side of the wealthy ruling elite’s deflective duopoly dodo theater. The other side of course being, ”Puppet Right.”

    Referring to them as “Obama Puppet Left” and “Puppet Left” will help readers to more readily see the machinations and be aware that there are string pullers above.

    This is more important now because the corporate media is further muddying the waters and growing the perpetual conflict by mixing and positioning celebrities as more powerful than political figures …

    Excerpt …

    “”We’ve come up with a new ranking of the female power elite that reflects the New Order of now ,” Forbes explained in an article accompanying the list.

    Obama takes the number 1 spot, having been ranked 40th last year, while Winfrey is 3rd (last year 41st), Lady Gaga is 7th (unplaced), Beyonce Knowles is considered the 9th most powerful woman on the planet (unplaced) and Degeneres 10th (unplaced).”

    More here …

    So, change those old fashion terms of civility and respect and jump right into the well planned and orchestrated melt down. Write a letter to Lady Gaga and tell her you will vote for her if she goes after BP, and ask her to wear her meat suit at the inauguration.


    They used to buy off a juror or two, now they have bought off, and poisoned through propaganda, the entire global jury pool. Fair trials will soon be impossible even in the court of public opinion. The red flag of caution is waving in the breeze of deception.

    Deception is the strongest political force on the planet.

  7. Dan W

    A question to readers here: How would you have handled this situation? I am neither defending nor condemning the Obama lies. I am simply acknowledging that ALL political leaders lie VERY OFTEN because they think it is better than what might result if people know “the truth”.

    1. Jackrabbit

      BP is probably responsible for the death of 11 Americans on the rig and a huge oil spill that fouls the Gulf and put tens of thousands out of work. How should that be handled?

      I think most American’s would not have:
      1. Accepted BP’s initial claims and then helped them to lie about the extent of the spill
      2. Helping BP to cover up the damage by allowing them to use toxic dispersants (even after they were told not to do so!)
      3. Allowing BP to control the coverage by keeping reports away.
      4. Reducing BP’s potential liability by saying that Gulf seafood is safe without proper studies.

      Despite protests to the contrary, it seems to me that BP was always in the drivers seat, and that the $20b fund that Obama got them to commit to was just PR. (I suspect that instead of funding quick payment of what was expected to be a minimum number of claims, it’ll turn into the maximum that BP pays for the damages.)

  8. Jackrabbit

    The other saying that comes to mind is: “fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.”

    Where’s the outrage? Our insular and mercenary culture teaches us that self-interest is paramount. This is the current in which i on the ball’s “deception” swims.

    The disillusioned Left and angry Right have common cause: publicaly funded elections. The corporations have a vice-grip on the political center.

    1. liberal

      “The disillusioned Left and angry Right have common cause: publicaly funded elections.”

      Except that the angry right is, I’m sure, dead set against publicly funded elections—it’s soshialist.

    2. Jonny

      I agree, this is priority 1, 1a and 1b through 1z. We will not have responsive government until we can blunt the influence of money in politics. It will probably require a constitutional amendment, which the powers that be will be able to defeat easily, due to voter (and non-voter) ignorance and apathy. We get what we deserve. Unless…. we all move from posting on finance blogs to rallying our extended neighbors and contributing to those who are fighting the good fight. Are you US-based folk aware of this:

  9. Hugh

    Kleptocracy is not a sometime thing. Of course, Obama was going to let a fly by night operation like BP drill in the deep waters of the Gulf and then cover for it when it all literally blew up and continue that cover up to the present and into the future. That’s what kleptocrats do.

    We are being ruled by hardcore criminals and are still in denial about it. A vote for any Democrat or any Republican is a vote for the criminals. We need to disabuse ourselves of the notion that these are just people who make mistakes or do some bad things. These are thoroughly bad people. They have a criminal mentality. A huge body of water like the Gulf is poisoned. Hundreds of miles of coast line are left damaged and polluted. The way of life of an entire region is put at risk. In other words, one of the great environmental crimes of our lifetimes has been committed. And what do the criminals who rule us do? They use all the means of government to cover for the criminals who did it. That is the essence of kleptocracy. It is not happy go lucky crooks or pigs swilling at the trough. It is psychopathic personalities who will steal and lie and destroy until they are stopped or there is nothing left.

  10. Doc Holiday

    I remain disgusted that NOAA, CDC, FDA, EPA, NASA and a wide spectrum of American Fed and State agencies were all involved in this conspiracy to help BP dodge responsibility/accountability — and obviously adding in Obama and all his oil-stained staff into this mix of corruption is disgusting! People that voted for change, from the Bush era of corruption, collusion and conspiracy, have now been rewarded with changes for the worse. How can Americans vote in the next election, when they ponder the reality of betrayal and dis-honesty by virtually every politician that is on any ballot in America? When the President is full of shit and a con-artist shitbag — why vote???? Why vote for the next mafia/wall street stooge or the next super right or left wing retard that will be controlled like a retarded puppet? If the solution to Obama is Palin, then beyond a doubt, America is totally fucked and a revolution is well within sight! I hope Obama and his family will continue sucking down copious amounts of seafood from the Gulf — and I wish the same and more for Bush, all the republicans and all the Democrats ….. and God willing, these people involved in deceit will pay the highest of prices and be held accountable!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    ==> And … the only reason I’m in a somewhat good mood, is because of this link: I have a soft spot for Yvette Mimieux ….

  11. Dirk

    Incredible. There was a PBS special on Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers a few nights ago. Without reading the book, I always thought that it was overblown and the US government rarely lies to protect the “establishment”—the existence of which I also didn’t believe in. Apparently I was so naive. Hopefully the PP is still in print.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      You should read Ellsberg’s book. The first chapter is a tad academic, but the rest is a fascinating account. Remember, Ellsberg was deep within the security/intelligence apparatus.

  12. Susan Holiday

    Reports indicates that BP is about to launch its new PR campaign with the BPCares website. BP recently acquired the BPCares domains and plans to launch the website soon to battle the falsehoods by the media and the eco-sensitive strain.
    In a memo leaked to reporters, BP’s plan is to be repentful for the loss of jobs and resources to the people in the Gulf and to put forth a strategy moving forward. The domains that BP owns are:
    The website is being beta tested and will be up soon.

  13. Nelcisco

    can someone answer this? Why is Obama disallowing American or Eurpoean oil companies from drilling in the gulf because of envirmental reasons but yet proposes to lend Mexico and Brazil billions to drill in the same environmental hazardous spot that we can’t?

  14. Bernard

    here in New Orleans, we couldn’t even have the local media get near the coast without BP stopping them. so i am supposed to trust BP, NOAA, Obama to tell the truth when we can’t even get near the water? not that i trust the local media not to be “managed”. it just shows how much we down here were able to see for ourselves, much less those of you who live far away from New Orleans and Ground Zero/Gulf.

    For BP, By BP, and of BP, with Obama as coordinator, Good Job Brownie/Carol Browner. history repeating itself in a matter of years!!!

    oh Trust the Fascist Big Brother State? lol

    i have some wetlands in West Texas for sale if you believe anything BP Obama and the Government.

    Also our Senator Landrieu, owned and operated by OIL INC. is a party to the mass deception here, but that is and has always been LA politics.

    it really sounds like Obama is doing his best to out Bush Bush! Now that is quite a record to emulate. lol.

    thanks to you Scalia, Roberts, Alito, Thomas, Bush, Cheney, Reagan: Fascism is really working!

  15. sam heuston bb

    No-one knows who will win as the voting public are so full of surprises right until the end. At the moment I think I want Darnell to win but I like Rachel, Kat and Rex as well so hope they are the final four. I cannot think at the moment who will win as it will depend what the HMs do to sway the public for the next month or so. As long as it isn’t Dale, Stu or Luke or Mikey I don’t mind!!!

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