Feds demand that BP provide confidential Gulf oil spill data

The EPA and Homeland Security Department have ordered BP to produce all the data it’s collected on the Gulf oil spill since the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded last month. BP has yet to comply.

By MARK GUARINO Staff Writer Christian Science Monitor
posted May 21, 2010 at 6:41 pm EDT

BP has yet to comply with federal requests to produce confidential internal data regarding the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. Nor is it providing direct answers to an order that it use another, less toxic dispersant to mitigate the oil.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Lisa Jackson wrote to BP Group Chief Executive Tony Haywood Thursday demanding that the company produce all data it has collected and plans to collect following the April 20 explosion that capsized the Deepwater Horizon, an oil rig BP leased and operated that subsequently wrecked an undersea wellhead that continues to spew oil into the Gulf.

The letter demands that the company hand over all documents including “any and all sampling and/or monitoring plans, records, video, reports collected by BP, its contractors, subcontractors, agents or employees” as well as any “reports of internal investigations.” Ms. Napolitano and Ms. Jackson want all such data posted on a website, saying that the public is “entitled to nothing less than complete transparency.”

In a press conference with reporters Friday, however, BP Chief Operating Officer Doug Suttles downplayed the request, saying his team “has been working very cooperatively and open from the start.”

“We’re going to do everything we can to comply,” Mr. Suttles said, while also expressing concern that, due to the “massive amount of information” requested, he “would not want the administrative effort to slow down the response effort.”

EPA orders less toxic dispersant

Suttles was similarly ambiguous about BP progress toward a separate EPA directive this week ordering the company to stop using Corexit, a dispersant the EPA had previously rated as being low in effectiveness and more toxic than some alternatives. The agency told BP it had a day to “identify a less toxic alternative” and three days to begin using it.

Suttles said that Corexit “is the most widely used dispersant in the world for this type of activity” and that BP has yet to identify another product that is both widely available for immediate stockpiling and less toxic.

“We will continue to look at other options,” he said. “There are a number of those out there, but we have to understand more about the details of their composition.”

How much and at what rate oil is spilling into the Gulf is a major issue in the debate over transparency.

Dispute over spill volume

Since the explosion, BP has continued to estimate the oil leak at 5,000 barrels a day. Independent analysts have disputed that number, saying the more likely volume is much higher.

The US Coast Guard is establishing a team of technical experts from federal agencies, national science laboratories, and academia to determine a best estimate for both the flow rate and escape volume.

Coast Guard Rear Adm. Mary Landry said the team will include Steven Wereley, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at Purdue University, who calculates the oil is leaking at 70,000 barrels a day.

Landry said the team will be required to produce a report that will determine “what we think is the actual estimate from this well … so we can get a very accurate estimate of the flow rate.”

Their efforts, she said, will not interfere with the continued progress of containment efforts, particularly the “top kill” procedure scheduled as early as next Tuesday.

“Regardless of the scientific progress for determining the flow … our resources and our tactics are not constrained by any flow estimate,” she said.

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