Disaster in the Gulf

Published — January 27, 2011 Updated — May 19, 2014 at 12:19 pm ET

Internal e-mails suggest doctoring of oil spill information by White House


The White House may have ignored expert advice from government officials and pressured scientists to make changes in a report about the BP oil spill cleanup in order to suit a public relations agenda, according to internal e-mails obtained by the Project on Government Oversight.

In these e-mails, agency officials describe “pushback” from the White House, POGO charges in a letter addressed to President Obama. When EPA officials expressed concern about how the effects of chemical dispersants were described, the concerns were ignored or overruled because of the goals of the “communication product” that NOAA was developing with the White House.

An e-mail stated that “the goal is to show chemical dispersion as part of the Federal response to the spill.”

According to POGO, EPA officials were concerned about how the effects of chemical dispersants were being described. Scientists did not want to overstate the success of the chemical dispersants when natural dispersion was also displacing the oil.

POGO also criticized the White House for glossing over uncertainties in the scientific data regarding the size of the oil spill in order to appear more in control of the situation. An early draft from NOAA recommended the White House define the size of the spill as 3 million to 5 million barrels. The White House chose 4.9 million barrels rather than appear uncertain of the size of the spill.

In June, the Center issued a report revealing first responders to the Deepwater Horizon blowout did have a grasp of the severity of the spill. Coast Guard logs indicate officials estimated up to 8,000 barrels a day. The early leak estimates showing an awareness of the coming catastrophe were absent from the White House’s timeline of the oil spill.

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