With the first anniversary of the onset of the BP oil spill coming up next week, spill-weary Gulf natives have a fresh reminder of how the oil giant has devoted itself to studiously downplaying the damage of the disaster: A recently leaked body of internal company correspondence shows senior BP brass trying to spin scientific research produced by company-paid researchers in order to minimize the scale of the spill's destruction in the public mind.
The news doesn't exactly come as a shock to many in the Gulf region. After all, when the Mobile Press-Register first reported last summer that BP was contracting to hire a battery of coastal scientists, many theorized that some such initiative was afoot. And now the internal BP emails obtained by Greenpeace through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) appear to bear such worries out.
As The Guardian reports today, BP officials sought to tailor the findings of company-funded research. Last May, BP announced that it was ponying up $500 million to fund "an open research program studying the impact of the Deepwater Horizon incident." That mega-project is now known as the Gulf of Mexico Research Institute (GRI). And to judge by the emails released via Greenpeace, company leaders were deeply concerned with how to spin to the group's findings given they footed its research bills.
"Can we 'direct' GRI funding to a specific study (as we now see the governor's offices trying to do)," BP environmental official Russell Putt asked in a June 2010 email. "What influence do we have over the vessels/equipment driving the studies vs the questions?"
Another email written by a BP environmental officer, Karen Ragoonanan-Jalim, indicates that company officials met in Houma, Louisiana, to discuss how they might "steer the research" to best serve the oil company's interests, writing that officials discussed how "BP can influence this long-term research programme" to "undertake the studies we believe will be useful."
The emails also reveal dissension among U.S. government leaders over the spill, specifically over the White House's controversial, and ultimately disproved, claims that the "vast majority" of the spilled oil had vanished from the Gulf.
Reports the Guardian's Suzanne Goldenberg:
- The White House clashed with officials from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) last summer when drafting the administration's account of what has happened to the spilled oil.
- On 4 August, Jane Lubchenco, the NOAA administrator, demanded that the White House issue a correction after it claimed that the "vast majority" of BP oil was gone from the Gulf.
- A few days earlier, Lisa Jackson, the head of the EPA, and her deputy, Bob Perciasepe, had also objected to the White House estimates of the amount of oil dispersed in the gulf. "These calculations are extremely rough estimates yet when they are put into the press, which we want to happen, they will take on a life of their own," Perciasepe wrote.
It should be noted that no evidence has yet surfaced to suggest that BP succeeded in compromising the integrity of the research carried out by any of the scientists working with the GCI.
|Disaster: 11 workers were killed and 200 million gallons of oil leaked|
after the Deepwater Horizon well exploded last year