Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Oil Spill Update - NOAA Ignoring Scientists?

At the beginning of the BP oil disaster 25 days ago we were introduced to Sky Truth.

Their estimates of the amount of oil being spilled into the Gulf were far higher than official estimates by NOAA and the Coast Guard which they maintain is 5000 barrels a day.

Since then NPR and other Gulf coast researchers are estimating the flow of oil to be 40-80,000 barrels a day.

So we called Rachel A. Wilhelm, a NOAA public affairs specialist, and asked her to comment on May 10th, 2010. Her response was surprising, "the actual amount of oil being spilled into the Gulf is irrelevant at this time." It was evident NOAA was uninterested in any challenges to the official flow estimates.

Today's headlines seem to mirror our earlier encounters with NOAA:

Florida State scientist: NOAA ignores spill findings

A prominent oceanographer, who was among the first to say official estimates understated the volume of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, charged Tuesday that a federal agency is punishing scientists whose findings disagree with government figures. Ian MacDonald, an oceanographer with Florida State University, who more than two weeks ago said the oil spill was likely five times as large as the 5,000 barrel-a-day estimate from the National Oceanic Atmospheric and Administration, said the agency is attacking scientists who challenged government estimates, while itself doing little to glean new information about the spill size.

“The scientific community in the Gulf of Mexico is fairly small ... and we've been very dedicated for a long time and not only is nobody listening to us in this, but it seems like they really want us to shut up,” MacDonald said. “It's very, very punitive and anybody who is doing this is getting attacked by NOAA.”

A NOAA spokesman did not address MacDonald's claims directly, but said that the agency's spill response includes scientists with key federal agencies as well as partners in the scientific community and the private sector.

The stinging criticism comes amid debate about the size of the oil spill emanating from BP's Macondo well about 40 miles off the coast of Louisiana. An April 20 blowout in a well under 5,000 feet of water triggered the oil spill, destroyed the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, and killed 11 workers.

Some independent scientists have made estimates that sharply depart from NOAA's estimate, which equates to 210,000 gallons a day.

Complete story.

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