White House sat on BP Gulf disaster photos: Where’s the ‘scientific integrity’ policy to cover that?


Previously unreleased government photos show “the White House and BP have been hiding the truth about the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf,” says John Hocevar, Ocean Campaign Director at GreenpeaceUSA.  Who was responsible for the government taking almost two years to comply with the law in releasing photos of lethal damage to critically endangered wildlife?  NOAA has adoped a formal ‘scientific integrity’ policy; the White House has not.  But where is the integrity in spinning communications to emphasize Gulf cleanup rather than documentation of damage – while the Obama administration promotes more drilling in the Gulf, and in the Arctic Ocean?

[Photo: “Critically endangered” Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle; NOAA, via Greenpeace]

The Washington Post had this story (online May 6, in print May 7):

Previously unreleased photographs show impact of BP oil on endangered sea turtles

Previously unreleased photographs from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico show boxes and bags full of oil-covered and dead endangered sea turtles and a group of sperm whales swimming through an oil sheen. …

John Hocevar, Greenpeace’s director of ocean campaigns, said the photographs paint a more dire picture of the effects of the spilled oil on endangered species than federal agencies presented during the disaster.

“We were seeing so many pictures and stories of turtles that were scrubbed clean and released back into the wild [in 2010]. The emphasis was on rescue,” Hocevar said. “At the same time, they had all these shocking pictures of dead turtles, turtles in garbage bags, turtles in boxes that present a very different image of the impacts of the disaster.”

Attempts to reach three NOAA officials Sunday for a response were unsuccessful. …

Most of the oiled and dead turtles in the pictures appear to be Kemp’s ridley sea turtles, which the United States lists as endangered.

Two photographs show what appear to be three adult sperm whales and one juvenile sperm whale swimming through an oil slick. In 2010, an NOAA official said the unnatural deaths of just three adult sperm whales in the northern Gulf of Mexico could crash the small population of the endangered mammals living there. …

From Greenpeace (more photos at the link):

Shocking images from the BP Gulf disaster

The White House and BP have been hiding the truth about the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf.

After almost two years after Greenpeace submitted a Freedom of Information Request for images and information related to the BP Gulf of Mexico disaster, we finally received the first batch of files. The images are disturbing and beg the question: What else about the Gulf disaster is the White House and Big Oil hiding from the public? …

We remain concerned about what else BP and the government scientists saw, what else they documented but never showed the public. These photos are a grim reminder of the real damage that reckless oil corporations cause and also remind us never to stop pushing for transparency and accountability from Big Oil and the government that supposedly regulates its activities. …

Take action and demand that the White House immediately make publicly available all the images, files and documentation before they reach a settlement with BP.

It has been my experience that the main impediment to ‘scientific integrity’ in the federal government – and this is the case no matter who is in the White House – is not on the science side of the fence, but rather when the White House and administration political appointees find straightforward communication politically inconvenient.  When the gatekeepers step in, they may not interfere with the doing of science – but they will exert message control on communications, so as to conform the message to White House politics.

I am reminded of this when I see what appears to be more indication of decisions by the White House and NOAA to play down the severity of the BP Deepwater Horizon blowout disaster.  This started early-on when they put out public statements aligning them with BP in radically underestimating the rate of flow of oil into the Gulf.

NOAA is engaged in a major long-term Gulf spill damage assessment and restoration effort.   We can hope this assessment will be comprehensive and credible.  But in the meantime, the Obama administration is promoting more drilling in the Gulf, and even in the Arctic Ocean.  I expect defending this position is a higher political priority for the White House message controllers than communication about environmental damage from oil spills.

Also see Kate Sheppard at Mother Jones:  2 Years Later, Grim Photos From the BP Disaster

Earlier posts:

Still drunk on oil: Obama’s speech in Cushing

NOAA on the BP oil blowout: Is this any way to communicate science?

“Scientific integrity” requires communication free from government and corporate pressure

BP control of Gulf cleanup money interfering with scientific integrity of damage assessment, Senate Environment committee told at hearing

PEER alleges scientific misconduct at NOAA in lowballing of BP spill rate, traces political pressure to White House

NOAA scientific integrity policy, Part 1: Scientists’ communication freedom still limited by Commerce Dept restrictions

NOAA scientific integrity policy, Part 2: Stronger whistleblower protections still needed


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