BP Oil Spill Update 8/10/2010
The Government is Dealing with the Oil
Spill Like the Soviets Dealt
The Soviet Union was famous for covering up its environmental disasters.
As award-winning journalist Dahr Jamail points out in a must-read
the oil spill:
“It is well known that after the Chernobyl accident, the Soviet
government immediately did everything possible to conceal the fact of
the accident and its consequences for the population and the
environment: it issued “top secret” instructions to classify all data
on the accident, especially as regards the health of the affected
population,” journalist Alla Yaroshinskaya has written.
In 1990 Yaroshinskaya came across documents about the Chernobyl
nuclear catastrophe that revealed a massive state cover-up operation,
coupled with a calculated policy of disinformation where the then
Soviet Union’s state and party leadership knowingly played down the
extent of the contamination and offered a sanitized version to the
public, both in and out of Russia. To date, studies continue to show
ongoing human and environmental damage from that disaster.
When the disaster at Chernobyl occurred, it was only after radiation
levels triggered alarms at the Forsmark Nuclear Power Plant in Sweden
that the Soviet Union admitted an accident had even occurred. Even
then, government authorities immediately began to attempt to conceal
the scale of the disaster.
But it's not just the communist Soviets ...
The U.S. also has a long history of covering up environmental and
health disasters, as shown by the following examples.
The Bush administration covered up the health risks to New Orleans
residents associated with polluted water from hurricane Katrina, and
FEMA covered up the cancer risk from the toxic trailers which it
provided to refugees of the hurricane.
The Centers for Disease Control - the lead agency tasked with
addressing disease in America - covered up lead poisoning in children
in the Washington, D.C. area.
The government's response to the outbreak of mad cow disease was
simple: it stopped testing for mad cow, and prevented cattle ranchers
and meat processors from voluntarily testing their own cows (and see
The government also underplayed the huge Tennessee coal ash spill. As
the New York Times noted in 2008:
A coal ash spill in eastern Tennessee that experts were already
calling the largest environmental disaster of its kind in the United
States is more than three times as large as initially estimated,
according to an updated survey by the Tennessee Valley Authority.
The amount now said to have been spilled is larger than the amount the
authority initially said was in the pond, 2.6 million cubic yards.
(The former head of the National Mine Health and Safety Academy says
that the government whitewashed the whole coal ash investigation.)
And the government allegedly ordered Manhattan Project scientists to
whitewash the toxicity of flouride (flouride is a byproduct in the
production of weapons-grade plutonium and uranium). As Project
Censored noted in 1999:
Recently declassified government documents have shed new light on the
decades-old debate over the fluoridation of drinking water, and have
added to a growing body of scientific evidence concerning the health
effects of fluoride. Much of the original evidence about fluoride,
which suggested it was safe for human consumption in low doses, was
actually generated by “Manhattan Project” scientists in the 1940s. As
it turns out, these officials were ordered by government powers to
provide information that would be “useful in litigation” and that
would obfuscate its improper handling and disposal. The once
top-secret documents, say the authors, reveal that vast quantities of
fluoride, one of the most toxic substances known, were required for
the production of weapons-grade plutonium and uranium. As a result,
fluoride soon became the leading health hazard to bomb program workers
and surrounding communities.
Studies commissioned after chemical mishaps by the medical division of
the “Manhattan Project” document highly controversial findings. For
instance, toxic accidents in the vicinity of fluoride-producing
facilities like the one near Lower Penns Neck, New Jersey, left crops
poisoned or blighted, and humans and livestock sick. Symptoms noted in
the findings included extreme joint stiffness, uncontrollable vomiting
and diarrhea, severe headaches, and death. These and other facts from
the secret documents directly contradict the findings concurrently
published in scientific journals which praised the positive effects of
Regional environmental fluoride releases in the northeast United
States also resulted in several legal suits against the government by
farmers after the end of World War II, according to Griffiths and
Bryson. Military and public health officials feared legal victories
would snowball, opening the door to further suits which might have
kept the bomb program from continuing to use fluoride. With the Cold
War underway, the New Jersey lawsuits proved to be a roadblock to
America’s already full-scale production of atomic weapons. Officials
were subsequently ordered to protect the interests of the government.
After the war, ... the dissemination of misinformation continued.
These are just a few of many examples showing that the U.S. has long
acted just like the Soviets in covering up the magnitude of
Government Says Oil Has Disappeared
The government is now saying that almost all of the oil has already
disappeared, and that the small amounts of remaining oil are not
Many have pointed out that it is still easy to find oil even on the
surface. As National Geographic points out:
In fact, scientists are still finding plenty of spilled Gulf
oil—whether it's bubbling up from under Louisiana's islands, trapped
underneath Florida's sugar-white beaches, or in the ocean's unseen
reaches. (See pictures of spilled Gulf oil found just under Florida
This week, biological oceanographer Markus Huettel and colleague Joel
Kostka dug trenches on a cleaned Pensacola beach and discovered large
swaths of oil up to two feet (nearly a meter) deep.
Oil gets trapped underground when tiny oil droplets penetrate porous
sand or when waves deposit tarballs and then cover them with sand,
said Huettel, of Florida State University in Tallahassee.
(Read more about oil found under "clean" Florida beaches earlier this
And see photographer Julie Dermansky's report.
As the Washington Post points out, scientists aren't buying the
government's spin either:
But, in interviews, [government] scientists who worked on the report
said the figures were based in large part on assumptions and estimates
with a significant margin of error.
Some outside scientists went further: In a situation in which many
facts remain murky, they said, the government seemed to have used
interpretations that made the gulf -- and the federal efforts to save
it -- look as good as possible.
"There's a lot of . . . smoke and mirrors in this report," said Ian
MacDonald, a professor of biological oceanography at Florida State
University. "It seems very reassuring, but the data aren't there to
actually bear out the assurances that were made."
But scientists who worked on the report said many of the numbers on
the White House's pie chart had significant margins of error. The
estimate of how much oil evaporated was calculated using a formula
designed for spills near the surface, not 5,000 feet underwater. The
calculation of how much oil would be "dispersed" as it flowed from the
well was a new one, extrapolated from data about the way oil is broken
The situation is "being portrayed as 'the oil is out of the
environment; it's gone,' " said Michael J. Blum, a professor at Tulane
University in New Orleans. But, he said, all that's certain is that
"the form of the oil has shifted. Dispersed oil is still oil. It's
just in a different form."
Indeed, because - according to the US Minerals Management Service and
a consortium of oil companies, including BP, themselves - as little as
2% of the oil which spilled from BP's oil well ever made it to the
surface, any formula based on surface spills is worthless. In other
words, as much as 98% of the spilled oil may not yet have even made it
to the surface, but may have been suspended under the surface the
And since the government and BP have been using Corexit to sink the
small proportion of oil visible from the surface, that means that more
than 98% of the oil might be lurking beneath the surface.
National Geographic makes a similar point:
To University of South Florida chemical oceanographer David Hollander,
the NOAA estimates are "ludicrous."
"It's almost comical."
According to Hollander, the government can account for only about 25
percent of the spilled Gulf oil—the portion that's been skimmed,
burned off, directly collected, and so on.
The remaining 75 percent is still unaccounted for, he said.
For instance, the report considers all submerged oil to be dispersed
and therefore not harmful, Hollander said. But, given the unknown
effects of oil and dispersants at great depths, that's not necessarily
the case, he added.
"There are enormous blanket assumptions."
Oil cleanup is mostly getting rid of what's on the surface, [Robert
Carney, a biological oceanographer at Louisiana State University in
Baton Rouge] said. There's a common perception that "as long as you
keep it off the beach, everything's hunky dory," he added.
Whether microbes munch the oil—the most common way oil breaks
down—depends on how much oxygen is available for the tiny organisms to
do their work....
"So far, we haven't seen any rapid degradation in these deep layers,"
[biological oceanographer Markus Huettel] said, though he noted oil at
the top of the sand has been disappearing within days.
With little oxygen, the buried oil may stay for years, until a storm
or hurricane wipes away the upper sand layers.
Previous oil spills suggest that the buried beach oil may continuously
migrate not only out to sea but also into groundwater, where it can
harm wildlife, Huettel said.
Oil-laden groundwater in Alaska following the Exxon Valdez spill, for
instance, led to "significantly elevated" death in pink salmon embryos
between 1989 and 1993, he said....
Another "open question" remains, FSU's Huettel noted: What is
happening to the oil deep in the Gulf?
For the first time during an oil-spill response, officials used
chemical dispersants to break up oil at ocean depths between 4,000 and
5,000 feet (1,200 and 1,500 meters). The dispersant-treated oil bits
may have sunk to the seafloor, Huettel said.
In the cold, dark ocean, this mixture of oil and chemical dispersants
may be suspended and preserved, causing long-term problems for
deep-sea animals, Texas Tech University ecotoxicologist Ron Kendell
said during August 4 testimony before the U.S. Congress.
"We have very limited information on the environmental fate and
transport of the mixture of dispersant and oil, particularly in the
deep ocean," Kendall said.
Some oil fragments are so tiny they can't be seen with the human eye,
said the University of South Florida's Hollander. Others are big
enough to be gobbled up by baby fish that mistake the oil for food....
Predicting what will happen to the deep-sea ecosystem is "uncharted
territory," said Hollander, who's studying what the oil is doing to
deep-sea creatures during a series of research cruises this summer and
"We're getting into something different than the 2-D petroleum spill"
on the Gulf's surface, he added. "All of the sudden you've taken this
2-D disaster and turned it into a 3-D catastrophe."
And the Guardian notes:
"Recent reports seem to say that about 75% of the oil is taken care of
and that is just not true," said John Kessler, of Texas A&M
University, who led a National Science Foundation on-site study of the
spill. "The fact is that 50% to 75% of the material that came out of
the well is still in the water. It's just in a dissolved or dispersed
Would I Lie To You, Comrade?
Florida State University oceanographer Ian McDonald points out that
the government scientists claiming almost all of the oil is gone are
the same folks who said that only 5,000 barrels of oil were leaking a
day, and who denied that there were underwater plumes.
Anderson Cooper made a similar point.
The bottom line is that the government's entire response to the oil
spill is to try to cover it up, just as the Soviets tried to do with
Chernobyl, and just as the U.S. government has done with the financial
crisis, torture, 9/11, the anthrax attack, and every other crisis.