Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Gulf Oil Spill - Obama administration still spinning the facts

From Dan Froomkin - Huff Post:
The Obama administration is actively trying to dismiss media reports that vast plumes of oil lurk beneath the surface of the Gulf of Mexico, unmeasured and uncharted.

But the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, whose job it is to assess and track the damage being caused by the BP oil spill that began four weeks ago, is only monitoring what's visible -- the slick on the Gulf's surface -- and currently does not have a single research vessel taking measurements below.

The one ship associated with NOAA that had been doing such research is back in Pascagoula, Miss., having completed a week-long cruise during which scientists taking underwater samples found signs of just the kind of plume that environmentalists fear could have devastating effects on sea life of all shapes and sizes.

Meanwhile, the commander of the NOAA vessel that the White House on Friday claimed in a press release "is now providing information for oil spill related research" told HuffPost on Tuesday that he's actually far away, doing something else entirely.

"We are in the Western Gulf doing plankton research," said Commander Dave Score, reached by satellite phone on his research vessel, the Gordon Gunter. "So I really don't know. I'm just on orders."...

NOAA officials did not respond to repeated questions from the Huffington Post on Tuesday, and therefore did not explain how they could possibly assess or track underwater oil without having any vessels out taking measurements...

Doug Helton, the emergency response coordinator in Seattle who is NOAA's trajectory expert, answered his phone but wouldn't say much. "It's still a pretty dynamic situation as to what's in the field today, as opposed to yesterday," he hedged, before saying he would call back after getting clearance from NOAA's public affairs office. There was no call back.

"The fact that NOAA has missed the ball catastrophically on the tracking and effects monitoring of this spill is inexcusable," said Rick Steiner, a University of Alaska marine conservationist who recently spent more than a week on the Gulf Coast advising Greenpeace. "They need 20 research ships on this, yesterday."

Steiner explained: "This is probably turning out to be the largest oil spill in U.S. history and the most unique oil spill in world history," on account of it occurring not on or near the surface, but nearly a mile below.

"They should have had a preexisting rapid response plan. They should have had vessels of opportunity -- shrimp vessels, any vessel that can deploy a water-column sampling device -- pre-contracted, on a list, to be called up in an event that this happened. And they blew it. And it's been going on for a month now, and all that information has been lost... There have to be dozens of these massive plumes of toxic Deepwater Horizon oil, and they haven't set out to delineate them in any shape or form."...

"Truly, they really need 20 or 30 vessels out there yesterday," Steiner said. "And I think they know that. And so all the spin -- that they have this under control, that there's no oil under the surface to worry about -- they're wrong, and they know it."