Oh, That Oil.

Rep. Ed Markey held a hearing on Capitol Hill yesterday during which he very gently got NOAA senior scientist Bill Lehr to move off the “don’t worry, be happy” party line about how much BP oil is still in the Gulf of Mexico and admit that around three-quarters of the oil is still there.  Do you think that Mr. Lehr got a call from NOAA management when he got back to the office? 

You can read a full report about the hearing from reporter Kate Sheppard here.  But I want to put what happened into a different context. 

As my colleague Sarah Chasis described here, on August 4, 2010, NOAA and the Department of the Interior held a press conference to sponsor a report that, according to them, showed that 75% of the BP oil was gone. 

But, as Sarah pointed out, that’s not what the report said.  I went on “The Ed Show” on MSNBC to talk about it; Ed called the report “bull” and I agreed.  In the days following, efforts were made to get NOAA to release the backup data and formulas used to generate the numbers in the August 4 report – but without success.   Kate describes her efforts to get this information here

Rep. Markey asked Mr. Lehr at the hearing for the data.  Mr. Lehr seemed surprised by the question and unprepared to push out the Administration’s talking points.  Instead, he told the truth:  75% of the BP oil is still in the environment, and the August 4, 2010 report has not yet been peer-reviewed and won’t be for another couple of months.  That last fact might seem like a minor point except that Carol Browner, Director of the White House Office of Energy and Climate Change Policy, said at the August 4 press conference that the report had already been peer reviewed.  Here is what she said:

“Can I just add another point?  This has all been -- as Dr. Lubchenco said -- been subjected to a scientific protocol, which means you peer review, peer review and peer review.  You look at what the inputs are.  You look at what the models are.  All of this has been made available.”

Well, none of “this” has been made available to the public, and if Mr. Lehr testified truthfully, which I think he did, Ms. Browner was wrong about the report having been peer reviewed.

The Administration doesn’t need to play it this way.  They could say, truthfully, that the Gulf environment is still at risk from many Exxon Valdez’s worth of toxic oil and dispersants, including an undersea toxic plume as reported in Science, and that BP will be forced to remain on scene until the risk is eliminated – no matter how long that takes.