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Project on Government Oversight

Obama's BP Oil Spill Report Favored Public Relations Over Scientific Concerns

A White House report on last year’s Gulf of Mexico oil spill appears to have ignored scientific advice from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in order to advance a public relations agenda, according to email exchanges obtained by the Project On Government Oversight (POGO).

EPA scientists raised concerns about how much success the Obama administration could attribute to chemical dispersants used on the oil released after the BP Deepwater Horizon explosion. In one email, an EPA official warned against trying to “distinguish between naturally and chemically dispersed oil in the ocean.”

Those concerns were overruled because they did not fit in with the goals of the “communication product” being developed by the EPA, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), and the White House, according to the emails.

In a letter sent Tuesday to President Barack Obama, POGO Executive Director Danielle Brian asked him to live up to his campaign promise of restoring scientific integrity in government policy.

“It’s extremely troubling that the White House may have suppressed sound scientific recommendations in order to massage its message to the public,” Brian said. “The enormous consequences of the oil spill should not be oversimplified—the public expects a scientifically credible explanation of what happened in the Gulf.”

The emails currently in POGO’s possession also show the that White House pushed the agencies to precisely quantify the spill as 4.9 million barrels, even though scientists thought an estimate of 3-5 million barrels was more accurate. While the distinction may appear subtle, it is an example of the White House glossing over the uncertainties that are often inherent in scientific calculations, Brian wrote.

Founded in 1981, the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) is a nonpartisan independent watchdog that champions good government reforms. POGO’s investigations into corruption, misconduct, and conflicts of interest achieve a more effective, accountable, open, and ethical federal government.

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