On August 4, Carol Browner, special adviser to the president for energy and climate change, appeared on NBC’s Today Show
and CBS’s The Early Show
to announce that 75 percent of the oil in the Gulf from the BP spill was gone
“The vast majority of the oil has been contained, it’s been burned, it’s been cleaned and that’s good news for the people of the Gulf,” she said on CBS.
Browner was backed up by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration chief Jane Lubchenco, whose office issued a five-page report
which said that only 52.7 million gallons out of the approximately 172 million gallons that spewed into the water from the broken BP well remained.
Immediately, scientists from Gulf Coast states began to dispute the numbers, saying that nearly 80 percent
of the oil is still under the surface in the form of dispersed droplets. Today’s Advocate
lays out the scientific dispute:
Chuck Hopkinson, director of the University of Georgia’s Sea Grant program and one of the leaders of that school’s study, said only 21 percent of the oil is likely “gone” by evaporation, burning, skimming and containment.
The rest of the oil — or 2.9 million to 3.2 million barrels — is still likely in the water, Hopkinson said.
“The idea that 75 percent of the oil is gone and is of no further concern to the environment is just absolutely absurd,” Hopkinson said.
Hopkinson is joined by other scientists from all over the country in disputing the federal government’s numbers. Again, from The Advocate
“I don’t believe the numbers in this report,” Rick Steiner, a marine conservationist who retired as a professor at the University of Alaska after 30 years — including during the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989, said.
“There’s no way to judge the veracity of the estimates they make without knowing how they came up with them. And for a scientific report, it’s only four pages long. I mean, come on.”
The question this conflicting information raises in my mind is why would the federal government want to spin a story based on inadequate science? Who does it benefit to call the Gulf cleaned up, if it is not?
Gulf fishermen, shrimpers in particular, whose season opened Monday, are wary of the government’s good news. While they may have a motive to protest the clean bill of health because of lawsuits against BP, most shrimpers I know, and I’ve interviewed quite a few over the years, have salt water in their blood. More than anything else, they have told me that shrimping is their way of life and they don’t know how they will survive if they can’t face the dawn with their motors thumping and nets dragging the green waters of the Gulf.
Their fear is that if they begin shrimping now, before they are convinced that microscopic droplets of oil bonded with the dispersant Corexit are truly gone from Gulf marine life, they will deliver contaminated shrimp to the dock, and a skeptical public will forever condemn Gulf shrimp as polluted.
The shrimpers, it seems, are more cautious than our federal agencies when it comes to our health and safety.
It’s especially perplexing since the White House has been so cautious about the drilling industry. If the administration feels the need to hold up oil exploration and drilling in the Gulf until they are satisfied that adequate safety regulations are in place, it seems logical to take the time to really understand what is going on under the waters of the Gulf of Mexico before declaring the oil gone and seafood safe
I know there is enormous pressure from business owners all along the Gulf Coast, who are suffering the worst economic disaster of their lives. That’s where the BP restitution funds come in, to replace a lost season’s worth of earnings. By declaring the Gulf nearly free of oil, the federal government seems to be undermining its own case against BP. Frankly, I don’t understand it.