Panel Blasts Government On BP Oil Spill Response The federal commission investigating the spill said that by underestimating how much was gushing -- and, later, how much oil remained -- in the Gulf of Mexico, the Obama administration "created the impression that it was either not fully competent to handle the spill or not fully candid with the American people."

Panel Blasts Government On BP Oil Spill Response

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This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.


A report on the BP oil spill critiques the Obama administration for what it told the public. A federal commission focused on government claims that 5,000 barrels of oil were flowing into the Gulf of Mexico each day. Now we know the number was more than ten times higher. NPR White House correspondent Ari Shapiro reports on how they got it so wrong.

ARI SHAPIRO: In May, BP released a short video clip of the gusher. Independent scientists who had experience measuring oil flow used that video to obtain much higher measurements. Professor Steven Werely of Purdue University revealed his measurement to NPR science correspondent Richard Harris on this program.

INSKEEP: 70,000 barrels a day.

RICHARD HARRIS: Plus or minus how much?

INSKEEP: Oh, about 20 percent.

SHAPIRO: The White House pushed back hard on those measurements, even though this report says they were far more accurate than the government's figures.

HARRIS: The administration deserves to be criticized for how it dealt with the spill rate estimates.

SHAPIRO: Dr. Joseph Romm writes the blog for the liberal Center for American Progress. He points out that BP always knew the lower the measurement of oil in the water, the less the company might be required to pay in damages.

HARRIS: That meant the administration I think had an extra responsibility to do its own objective analysis.

SHAPIRO: And it sounds like they failed at that responsibility.

HARRIS: Yes, I think that's a fair judgment. It was a big deal, and I think it should have been pursued more systematically.

SHAPIRO: In late May, the government assembled a flow rate team to reach a more accurate measurement. Dr. Ira Leifer of the University of California Santa Barbara was part of that team. He believes the science behind the scenes worked the way it was supposed to, but there was a problem communicating with the public.

HARRIS: I would say to be diplomatic the communication process was not ideal for ensuring public confidence in the government response. But the scientific process proceeded at the rate that we were able to do it.

SHAPIRO: This report also looks at the end of the crisis, when the White House examined the fate of the oil in the gulf. By August the well was plugged, and government officials trumpeted a scientific analysis that showed good news. White House energy advisor Carol Browner was on all the network talk shows, including NBC's Today show.

MONTAGNE: Our scientists have done an initial assessment, and more than three quarters of the oil is gone.

SHAPIRO: Ari Shapiro, NPR News, Washington.

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