At least one member of Congress is skeptical that as much oil has disappeared from the Gulf of Mexico as government scientists have reported. Massachusetts Democrat Ed Markey convened a rare August hearing to quiz government scientists about how they reached their conclusions and pressed them to release their methodology.
Markey, chairman of the Energy and Environment subcommittee, was the only member of the panel to interrupt his August recess for the hearing. He said while many lawmakers are away this month, the oil has not gone away from the Gulf of Mexico, despite what Obama administration officials have maintained.
"People want to believe that everything is OK, and I think this report and the way it is being discussed is giving many people a false sense of confidence regarding the state of the Gulf," Markey said.
He said the amount of oil that remains in the Gulf by the government's own accounting, some 1.3 million barrels, is five times larger than the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska. Markey questioned government scientists at the hearing over how they reached their conclusions that some three-quarters of the oil that spilled into the Gulf dissolved, dispersed or was recovered.
Bill Lehr, a senior scientist with National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said the agency will gladly release its methodology, as soon as it finishes its report. "The technical documentation is being written and it will be peer-reviewed, it will be long, it will be filled with graphs and charts and all the references in the passive voices that are typical of such reports, and I assure you it will bore everyone except those of us who actually love to do oil spill science," Lehr said.
Pressed on when that release would occur, Lehr said it would take some two months. That's not the answer Markey wanted to hear. "The public has a right to know right now what is going on in the Gulf of Mexico," he said. "And your report should be analyzed by others right now, so that we're sure we got it right — because if your numbers are wrong two months from now, it could be too late."
State Of Seafood In Gulf
Markey said the government had showed its answer first and then showed its work. He also questioned officials from NOAA, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Food and Drug Administration about whether seafood being caught in the Gulf now is safe to eat. The government has opened some 31,000 square miles of waters to fishing that were closed immediately after the oil from the Deepwater Horizon well started gushing.
NOAA's Lehr says every shrimp, crab and other fish tested by the government so far has been found to be safe.
"To date every seafood sample from reopened waters or outside of the closed area has passed sentry and chemical testing for contamination of oil dispersant," he said. "No unsafe levels of contamination of the seafood have been found."
But here too Markey was skeptical, noting much remained unknown, including the long-term effects of the dispersants and the oil on seafood, and on the Gulf itself.