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More Depressing News About the BP Oil Spill

, May 14, 2010

In case you've had as hard of a time as we've had keeping up with all the bad news coming out about the Gulf Coast oil spill, GAP's brought together some of the more appalling tidbits from the last few days:

First, despite the fact that BP has said many times that it is impossible to accurately judge the extent of the Gulf spill by looking at video of oil gushing out of the broken pipe, experts analyzing the video at the request of NPR argue that it is possible and that the spill is far worse than BP has estimated. While BP claims the oil is likely spilling at a rate of 5,000 barrels a day, the experts predict it is somewhere between 56,000 barrels to 84,000 barrels a day and that the oil spill has already surpassed the iconic Exxon Valdez spill in scope.

Similarly, the New York Times reports that environmental groups are raising concerns over why BP continues to claim it is impossible to measure the scope of the oil spill, and why they have produced and are sticking to the number of 5,000 barrels a day. The groups argue that there are accepted scientific methods that could be easily used to more accurately measure the leak, and that "the figure of 5,000 barrels a day was hastily produced by government scientists in Seattle. It appears to have been calculated using a method that is specifically not recommended for major oil spills."

Greenwire reports that, as we blogged about last week, BP is continuing to use risky chemicals called dispersants to break up the oil spill, but that the oil giant has bypassed the use of less toxic chemicals in favor of ones manufactured by a company with which they have close ties. The company, Nalco Co, was once part of Exxon Mobil Corp. and currently has leadership that includes executives from both BP and Exxon. Even worse, EPA data shows the Nalco dispersant to be less effective than less toxic alternatives in dealing with southern Louisiana crude oil.

In addition, even more accountability issues with the Minerals Management Service, the federal agency responsible for overseeing offshore oil drilling, have come to light, including that the MMS routinely allowed BP and other companies to drill in the Gulf without first obtaining required environmental permits. As a spokesperson from an environmental advocacy group so impeccably puts it in the article:

“M.M.S. has given up any pretense of regulating the offshore oil industry. The agency seems to think its mission is to help the oil industry evade environmental laws.”

And similarly a scientist at the MMS argues:

“You simply are not allowed to conclude that the drilling will have an impact. If you find the risks of a spill are high or you conclude that a certain species will be affected, your report gets disappeared in a desk drawer and they find another scientist to redo it or they rewrite it for you."

We reported last week that MMS had recently faced a scandal when an investigation discovered "a culture of ethical failure” at the agency, and that MMS also did not require BP file a "scenario for potential blowout," or potential sudden release of oil from the Deepwater Horizon well. Thanks for all your good work, MMS.

Finally, Senator Lisa Murkownski (R-AK), a big oil ally, has blocked an effort by three Democratic Senators to raise the economic liability cap for BP from $75 million to $10 billion.  Just to put this in perspective, some current estimates place the ultimate economic costs of the spill at $4 billion – just a tiny bit more than $75 million.

In addition, Transocean, the owner of the rig that exploded and sank, has filed a motion to limit its liability for the explosion and spill to about $26.8 million, equivalent to the current value of the rig.

Oh and don't forget, it's really no big deal, as BP's CEO Tony Hayward put it today, the oil spill is "relatively tiny" compared with the "very big ocean."

And all of that is just from the last few days. We at GAP are really starting to wonder, is anyone surprised by all of this misconduct anymore?

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Beth Adelson is a Communications Fellow at the Government Accountability Project, the nation's leadingwhistleblower advocacy organization.