Dear White House Re: Oil Spill Not Gone

by Kert Davies

August 19, 2010

Letter from Greenpeace to White House:

Ms. Carol Browner
Office of Energy and Climate Change Policy
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500

August 16, 2010

Dear Ms. Browner,

During the week of August 4, 2010, you served as the administration’s principle spokesperson appearing on multiple national television programs, including NBC’s Meet the Press and ABC’s Good Morning America, to report findings from the interagency BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Budget.  You stated repeatedly that “the vast majority of the oil appears to be gone.” 

This week, multiple independent scientists have released calculations and investigations that show quite the opposite:

  • from the University of Georgia that upwards of seventy nine percent of the spilled oil still remains in the Gulf
  • from the University of South Florida oil found on the bottom of the ocean in a vast area of subsea canyons some 40 miles from the Florida panhandle

This new scientific information tells a story that is a complete reversal of what you conveyed to the American public just two weeks ago. We are mystified about how you and government’s top scientists could have gotten the numbers and the interpretation and translation of this data so wrong. The only plausible explanation is that you rushed to put an optimistic face on the worst environmental catastrophe in American history.

Your major media appearances the first week of August included the following quotes:

“The good news is that the vast majority of the oil appears to be gone…The scientists are telling us about 25 percent was not captured or evaporated or taken care of by mother nature”
     on ABC Good Morning America, August 4, 2010

“I think it’s also important to note that our scientists have done an initial assessment and more than three-quarters of the oil is gone, the vast majority of the oil is gone…The EPA has been monitoring, NOAA is monitoring, the Food and Drug Administration is looking at the fish; and, right now, nobody’s seeing anything of concern.”
     on NBC Meet the Press, August 8, 2010

Today, in a congressional hearing, NOAA and EPA testified that preliminary results released August 4th have not been peer-reviewed, and that this must and will be done before any conclusions can be made about the state of the Gulf. Furthermore, NOAA’s preliminary statement about oil cleaned up includes the 800,000 barrels of oil captured by ships – which never entered the Gulf but was instead likely sent to refineries and into America’s gas tanks.

Did the NOAA and EPA scientists who briefed you for the August 4th release affirm that it was accurate and credible to use the language, that “the vast majority of the oil appears to be gone.”?

While you falsely reassured the American people and residents of the Gulf region on the ongoing environmental impact in the Gulf, we are also concerned that this optimistic assessment may have further undermined the administration’s credibility and the longer term efforts of the Federal government to fully prosecute BP and others for the damage to the Gulf. We remain very concerned about any possible industry influence on the collection of accurate scientific data and dissemination of information about this oil disaster by the government’s reliance on British Petroleum assets and other oil industry actors involved in the assessment and clean up response.  

Greenpeace remains committed to independent review of the oil disaster’s impact and support demands made today by Representative Ed Markey that all data, calculations, formulas and citations of scientific literature behind the Oil Budget calculator be immediately released to the public and to independent scientists.  

Our research vessel the Arctic Sunrise is currently hosting scientists from multiple academic institutions investigating the ongoing impacts of the oil that remains in the Gulf of Mexico as we help independent scientists in the pursuit of the truth.  We will be happy to share the results of this mission with your office.

The President rightly promised the American public an unprecedented amount of transparency and rededication to science in his administration (versus the behavior of previous administration). We feel the President has been unfairly blamed for the Gulf disaster, but there is no getting around the fact that you were on national television telling the American public something that has now been severely contradicted by independent expert scientists.

We sent a FOIA request to NOAA on August 5, 2010, asking for disclosure of the calculations and data behind the Deepwater Horizon Oil Budget. While we await a response to our  FOIA request, we would kindly request that you formally amend or retract your comments of the week of August 4th based on this new evidence.

I look forward to your prompt response.

Best regards,

Phillip Radford
Executive Director
Greenpeace US

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