The National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling has issued several drafts of Staff Working papers. Inside the text is a devastating assessment of the federal government’s (in this case, the Obama administration) handling of the oil spill and a time line (with considerable footnotes) concerning the government’s “struggle to accurately estimate the rate of oil flow from the Macondo well.” From the large sample of mainstream media news stories, there is no way to spin this positively (though some will try).
From the Wall Street Journal: (emphasis added in bold — hold onto your seats as it’s going to get pretty bumpy)
WASHINGTON—The Obama administration’s response to the BP PLC oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico was affected by “a sense of over optimism” about the disaster that “may have affected the scale and speed with which national resources were brought to bear,” the staff of a special commission investigating the disaster found.
In four papers issued Wednesday by the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling, commission investigators fault the administration for making inaccurate public statements about a report on the fate of oil spilled by a BP well in the Gulf of Mexico.
The commission papers also are critical of the administration for initially underestimating how much petroleum was flowing into the Gulf. Together, the inaccurate statements created the impression the government “was either not fully competent to handle the spill or not fully candid” about the accident.
The Associated Press and accompanying headline on Yahoo News are equally stunning:
By DINA CAPPIELLO, Associated Press Writer Dina Cappiello, Associated Press Writer – Wed Oct 6, 11:48 am ET
WASHINGTON – The White House blocked efforts by federal scientists to tell the public just how bad the Gulf oil spill could have been.
In documents released Wednesday, the national oil spill commission reveals that in late April or early May the White House budget office denied a request from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to make public the worst-case discharge from the blown-out well.
BP estimated the worse scenario to be a leak of 2.5 million gallons per day. The government, meanwhile, was telling the public the well was releasing 210,000 gallons per day – a figure that later grew closer to BP’s figure.
The bar graph at the top of this post comes from the Appendix of Staff Working Paper No. 3 titled THE AMOUNT AND FATE OF THE OIL. Link to the Oil Spill Library PDFs
The government’s estimates were clearly low-balled during the first several weeks after the rig explosion with estimates of 1,000 barrels per day (bbls/day) to 5,000 bbls/day. Indeed, 5,000 bbls/day “was to remain the government’s official flow-rate estimate for a full-month, until May 27, 2010.”
Non-governmental estimates were significantly higher than the official government estimates. These were based upon satellite imagery and, then after the release of the 30-second video by BP on May 12, 2010, flow-based estimates. “Within 24 hours, at least three scientists had used various methodologies to derive estimate of the flow rate substantially greater than the government’s then-current estimate.”
Conclusion from the Panel: (page 7)
It is possible that the early official flow estimates would have been more accurate if the government had either enlisted greater in-house scientific expertise, or enlisted outside scientific expertise by making available the data on which government estimates were based.
And finally, the Panel believes that this decision was made “above the operational level.” (page 10)
It is the understanding of the Commission staff that the possibility of releasing the worst-case discharge figures was at least discussed at the Unified Command level. The Commission staff has also been advised that, in late April or early May 2010, NOAA wanted to make public some of its long-term, worst-case discharge models for the Deepwater Horizon spill, and requested approval to do so from the White House‟s Office of Management and Budget. Staff was told that the Office of Management and Budget denied NOAA‟s request.
It wasn’t until mid-June when Secretary Chu (Nobel Prize winner, remember) provided the Flow-Rate Group data necessary to make an arguably accurate flow-rate estimate!
Then, again, what’s 50,000 barrels among friends? Initial government estimates suggested 1-5k bbs/day. Current estimates suggest 52.7-62.2k bbs/day. Only off by 98%. This is only one-half of the Staff’s Report on the Fate of the Oil. The second half of the report describes the FATE OF THE OIL RELEASED: how much went where …
Sidebar: While the administration and NOAA were not particularly forthcoming with doom-and-gloom “worst-case scenarios”, NCAR scientists picked up the slack with the following report issued (and screamed worldwide with a press release) on June 3, 2010.
BOULDER—A detailed computer modeling study released today indicates that oil from the massive spill in the Gulf of Mexico might soon extend along thousands of miles of the Atlantic coast and open ocean as early as this summer. The modeling results are captured in a series of dramatic animations produced by the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and collaborators.
This animation shows one scenario of how oil released at the location of the Deepwater Horizon disaster on April 20 in the Gulf of Mexico may move in the upper 65 feet of the ocean. This is not a forecast, but rather, it illustrates a likely dispersal pathway of the oil for roughly four months following the spill. It assumes oil spilling continuously from April 20 to June 20. The colors represent a dilution factor ranging from red (most concentrated) to beige (most diluted).
The research was supported in part by the National Science Foundation, NCAR’s sponsor. The results were reviewed by scientists at NCAR and elsewhere, although not yet submitted for peer-review publication.