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BP Cracks Down on Media Access, the Feds Refuse to Act, and Other Oil Spill Shenanigans

Beth Adelson, May 20, 2010

A few more major stories are out concerning the BP oil spill in the Gulf Coast:

First, ProPublica rounds up several instances in which BP has attempted to slow the flow of information about the spill. Reports are out, nonetheless, about BP refusing to publicize results of “tests on the extent of workers’ exposure to evaporating oil or from the burning crude over the Gulf.” The tests could be an important tool in determining whether or not it is currently safe for workers in the Gulf. 

Similarly, CBS News reporters were banned from filming a beach covered with oil in Louisiana by a motley crew of BP contractors and members of the Coast Guard. The reporters were threatened with arrest if they continued to attempt filming the beach. One of the men said to the reporters: “This is BP’s rule. It’s not ours.” Just who is supposed to be in charge then? This incident raises serious questions about the involvement of the government with BP. CBS reports: "We spoke with Coast Guard officials today; they say they're looking into it."

Prominent scientists are also raising concerns about the government's response to the oil spill, according to a New York Times report. The scientists argue that by now, the Obama administration should have certainly released test results on water from the deep ocean near the spill, and should be pushing BP to release more information as well. The deep ocean tests are specifically important because the oil spill is nearly a mile below the surface.

The Huffington Post reports that Representative Edward Markey (D-Mass.), head of the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, demanded and will soon receive live streaming video of the oil spill in Gulf, following heavy criticism of BP for not releasing video sooner. As we blogged about previously, many scientists have come forward to say that even the short, grainy video clips released by BP earlier prove that the scope of the disaster is much larger than BP estimated.

As ProPublica and ABC News point out, the video release follows a confusing and alarming exchange during which the White House said it would not pressure BP to release the video on the grounds that it was BP's property, and a BP executive said tapes were under joint control of the government and industry. Again, who is in charge here?

In addition, following the publication of a whistleblower's claims that BP was not operating with up-to-date records on their Gulf Coast oil platform Atlantis, Democratic lawmakers are urging BP to shut the platform down until it can prove it is operating safely. A letter from the lawmakers to BP reads:

"We are very concerned that the tragedy at Deepwater Horizon could foreshadow an accident at BP Atlantis, which is operating in deeper water than Horizon."

Finally, the New York Times is reporting that while officials and executives are cracking down on information and pointing fingers, oil has reached the delicate Louisiana coastal marshes, which help to shield against hurricane storm surges and form part of the area's seafood industry. Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal criticized the Army Corps of Engineers, the Coast Guard and BP for not moving forward promptly on a plan to protect the marshes.

“It’s past time to act,” Jindal said.

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Beth Adelson is a Communications Fellow for the Government Accountability Project, the nation's leading whistleblower advocacy organization.