Guest Post: No, The Gulf Oil Spill Is NOT Old News

While the Japanese nuclear crisis might upstage the Gulf crisis, it hasn’t gone away.

As the Wall Street Journal notes today:

Vladimir Uiba, head of Russia’s Federal Medical-Biological Agency… compared the contamination of seawater by the Fukushima complex with an oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico by BP PLC last year, and said, “The BP oil spill has caused far more serious impact on the environment than the Fukushima accident” ….

Gulf residents are still getting sick, the number of dolphins and whales killed by the spill appears to be many times higher than officials previously believed. Dead turtles are washing up in Mississippi. And see these photos from my favorite photographer, Julie Dermansky:

And just-released confidential BP and government emails confirm my previous posts showing:

  • The government is keeping scientists away from “ground zero” of the oil spill and – for that reason – scientists cannot accurately measure the size of the oil spill
  • BP and the government famously declared that most of the oil had disappeared, when it hadn’t

As the Guardian reports today:

BP officials tried to take control of a $500m fund pledged by the oil company for independent research into the consequences of the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster, it has emerged.

Documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show BP officials openly discussing how to influence the work of scientists supported by the fund, which was created by the oil company in May last year.

Russell Putt, a BP environmental expert, wrote in an email to colleagues on 24 June 2010: “Can we ‘direct’ GRI [Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative] funding to a specific study (as we now see the governor’s offices trying to do)? What influence do we have over the vessels/equipment driving the studies vs the questions?”.

The email was obtained by Greenpeace and shared with the Guardian.

The documents are expected to reinforce fears voiced by scientists that BP has too much leverage over studies into the impact of last year’s oil disaster.

Those concerns go far beyond academic interest into the impact of the spill. BP faces billions in fines and penalties, and possible criminal charges arising from the disaster. Its total liability will depend in part on a final account produced by scientists on how much oil entered the gulf from its blown-out well, and the damage done to marine life and coastal areas in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. The oil company disputes the government estimate that 4.1m barrels of oil entered the gulf.


Kert Davies, Greenpeace US research director, said the oil company had crossed a line. “It’s outrageous to see these BP executives discussing how they might manipulate the science programme,” Davies said. “Their motivation last summer is abundantly clear. They wanted control of the science.”

The $500m fund, which is to be awarded over the next decade, is by far the biggest potential source of support to scientists hoping to establish what happened to the oil.

A number of scientists had earlier expressed concerns that BP would attempt to point scientists to convenient areas of study – or try to suppress research that did not suit its business.


Another email, written by Karen Ragoonanan-Jalim, a BP environmental officer based in Trinidad [says] “Discussions around GRI and whether or not BP can influence this long-term research programme ($500m) to undertake the studies we believe will be useful in terms of understanding the fate and effects of the oil on the environment, eg can we steer the research in support of restoration ecology?”

And as the Guardian notes, it wasn’t just BP which was doing the spinning:

Other documents obtained by Greenpeace suggest that the politics of oil spill science was not confined to BP. The White House clashed with officials from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) last summer when drafting the administration’s account of what has happened to the spilled oil.

On 4 August, Jane Lubchenco, the NOAA administrator, demanded that the White House issue a correction after it claimed that the “vast majority” of BP oil was gone from the Gulf.

A few days earlier, Lisa Jackson, the head of the EPA, and her deputy, Bob Perciasepe, had also objected to the White House estimates of the amount of oil dispersed in the gulf. “These calculations are extremely rough estimates yet when they are put into the press, which we want to happen, they will take on a life of their own,” Perciasepe wrote.

And because nothing has really changed, it is likely to happen again.

Hat tip: Majia’s Blog.

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About George Washington

George Washington is the head writer at Washington’s Blog. A busy professional and former adjunct professor, George’s insatiable curiousity causes him to write on a wide variety of topics, including economics, finance, the environment and politics. For further details, ask Keith Alexander…


  1. Expat

    We have met the enemy and he is us!

    Regarding BP, Tepco, and Wall Street:
    These people are humans with families and friends. I have worked with many of them. They don’t cheat their six year old daughters out of their birthday money. They don’t crap in the laundry room and blame it on the cat. They don’t burn down their own homes just for the insurance, making sure their wife dies in the blaze for that extra payout.

    Yet, they cheat, lie, steal, and murder in the name of their corporation, career, and personal wealth. Business Week, CNBC, and the FT heap laurels on them for doing so. The Queen gives them knighthoods; the President gives them Freedom Medals.

    In America we will lock you up for life for stealing $100 three times. We will put you away for five years for having a bit of pot.

    I think we should prosecute social crimes like those committed by BP and Wall Street and punish them in a way which is commensurate with the size and scope of the crime. If a petty criminal gets life for Three Strikes, then BP and Wall Street executives should be exiled to Liberia or executed for crimes against humanity.

    Seriously, what the fuck is wrong with us? Just how sick have we gotten in our world where no one from BP or Wall Street has been arrested yet?

    1. Igor D

      In soviet Russia, we had saying “everyone is equal but some people are more equal than others.”

      In modern America, we also have saying “in principle everyone is equal before law, but some people are above law.”

    2. CB

      I share your incredulity at the gross injustice. Maybe the legal concept of corporations treated as ‘people’ with commensurate rights yet with limited liability or personal responsibility for the actual ‘people’ running said corporations has something to do with it? The current system has failed us.

  2. eric anderson

    For a more balanced and fact-filled review of the spill and cleanup efforts, I would suggest The New Yorker’s massive piece, “The Gulf War,” which gives a picture at odds with the disaster-mongers and conspiracy nuts.

    At least, read and make up your own mind. Everything George Washington writes is suspect to me now. I find it odd to be in the position of defending the Obama Administration, but I really think they were rather rational and reasonable in dealing with this incident.

    I see the same alarmism permeating the discussion of the Fukushima nuclear reactor meltdown. The most sensible explanations I’ve read have been on Karl Denninger’s blog.

    1. jsmith

      The above post is a perfect example of what I like to call:

      Livestockholm syndrome

      The Gulf looks mooooch better now!

      I can’t wait to baaaath in the Fukushima hot springs!

    2. Parvaneh Ferhadi

      Washington’s post seems perfectly balanced to me. He contrasts what BP and the USG said, with what was actually done or to the facts on the ground.
      What’s not factual about that?

    3. curlydan

      the new yorker making the obama administration look good? that’s odd ;) ok, i got my snark in. i guess i’ll go read the article

    4. Igor D

      In soviet Russia, when someone disagree with supreme soviet, we say he is crazy, and send him to special mental institution.

      In America, people also say person who disagree is crazy.

    5. John Emerson

      “Balanced” “disaster-mongers” “conspiracy nuts” “alarmism” — you touched all the important bases.

      “At least, read and make up your own mind. Everything George Washington writes is suspect to me now.” Sounds like “We report, you decide”.

      You act as though none of us every heard of the problem before we read this piece.

  3. jh

    Executives and political lap dogs are imitators.
    The persistent lie and cover up always close to hand.
    Indifferent to the poisoning and sterilization of
    large swaths of geography which give us and our fellow
    creatures life and sustenance. Conjecture? Count the costs.
    Need the energy? Beam trawling? Yes, me too. Until.

  4. Norman

    I always find it of interest to read the comments that people write about what ever story they read. It usually gives an indication of their view point towards the subject matter. That’s what is great about living here in the U.S.A. We can express ourselves without fear of getting smashed into the ground by those who oppose said view point. Acceptance of others opinions, whether one agrees with that opinion or not, is what sets us apart. If only some person[s] are right, while all others with a different slant or what ever one may call those opinions, are deemed wrong, then indeed, we are headed towards a society with tunnel vision.

    1. Millard Dullard

      I find it astonishing that people use words to express their opinions. With words, one can accomplish a great deal of self-expression. Often these words are strung together into sentences through which the speaker hopes to convey a certain meaning. Thanks to words, blogs like this can exist.

  5. Paul Tioxon

    BP has not gone away as a corporation either, and the results of ecological disaster production is frequently on the scale of the Gulf Oil Toxic Poisoning of the Worldwide Oceanic Currents. What is more important is to keep organizing political resistance, so when the inevitable disaster occurs, the opportunity for consolidating more power of the people, by the people and for the people, will reduce the future occurrences of corporate designed disasters. Every time they bloody the middle class, another citizen for change is made.

  6. Mammon

    BP is the fuel for our war effort, all the surface controversies and editorial tit for tats don’t mean shit. The goons take their fuel, sucking up an equivalent percentage of Iraq’s output. The US engaged in epic criminality, straight out of the handbook of failed empire, and attacked that country with the infantile belligerence of a drunk high school brawler. There are serious idiots in our military, dangerous goddamn fools.

    1. Rex

      “There are serious idiots in our military, dangerous goddamn fools.”

      Nice. That has the ring of Hunter S. Thompson, who I miss. It would be good to have him still around to comment on the quagmires evolving since he decided to check out.

  7. windcatcher

    The saddest part of the Gulf Oil disaster is that there still is no oil spill response system in place to contain and remove the oil from the water before it reaches land.

    If there were another oil disaster tomorrow, they would start spraying dispersant again. Wait, what makes us believe that BP has ever quit spraying dispersant at the disaster site or that the leaks were ever contained! No one knows because of the open secrecy and cover-up.

    Why is that? Is everyone distracted by the $500 million to study the effects of the oil disaster? (We really can’t call it “oil spill” because no one knows if the oil is not continuing to gush out. – It’s a Big Secret)

    There is oil disaster response and recovery equipment in the North Sea to contain an oil spill and to reclaim the oil by separating the oil from the sea water BEFORE it reaches land. Why isn’t the Gulf of Mexico as well protected and equipped? Why? Because the Banksters and Big Oil are too cheap and they own Congress, branches of government and the President!

    The USA has become a Third World Banana Republic of brainwashed goons who accept their doomed destiny without a fight; Americans make such perfect dupes and victims. It’s easy, secrecy and lies and a controlled mass media agenda of spin and diversion from the truth.

    1. skippy

      “The saddest part of the Gulf Oil disaster” —windcatcher—

      Too me…it was easily avoidable…but, someones bonus came first.

      Skippy…yeah, yeah, I know its all about jobs for the little people…sigh. Back in the pit sheeple.

  8. jonn2

    comment1, 2, 8716, 3, 8018, 1, %O, 3, 8(((, 2, =-]]], 1, tqhl, 1, lmxhm, 2, 0781, 3, 6952, 1, :], 1, rha, 1, :OO, 2, vfw, 3, %-]]], 2, wxzqjc, 1, >:-DD, 1, twfxt, 3, %-))), 3, wirnm, 1, klse, 2, pfo, 2, 883, 1, :], 3, 653337, 3, :-((, 2, hoatg, 2, %-]], 3, 4149, 3, 56435, 3, 330, 2, %(, 2, 532, 1, 8[[[, 2, 222999, 1, 8-DD, 2, 8], 3, 044244, 2, 6409, 3, 750288, 1, adqd, 1, 8PPP, 3, kmmjk, 1, :-[, 2, hqy, 3, glm, 1, 8DDD, 2, 32966, 2, qazmmr, 1, bcv, 1, >:-PPP,

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