WASHINGTON – An environmental whistleblower group charges in a lawsuit that the Obama administration is withholding documents that would reveal why it issued an estimate on the gravity of the Gulf of Mexico oil well blowout that later was proved to be far too low.
Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility sued Thursday in federal court, claiming that federal officials are withholding hundreds of pages of reports and communications between scientists on the Flow Rate Technical Group, who were tasked with making the estimates, and Marcia McNutt, the head of the U.S. Geological Survey, who chaired the technical group and released a summary of its findings.
The controversy over the oil flow estimates is part of a broader question about whether political appointees at the top of the Obama administration have manipulated and publicized incorrect or incomplete scientific information in an attempt to tamp down anxiety and anger over the world’s worst oil accident.
“This lawsuit will produce Exhibit A for the case that science is still being manipulated under the current administration,” Jeff Ruch, the executive director of the environmental organization, said in a statement.
Ruch said that some of the missing information was thought to show that the USGS knew in May, when it released an estimate of 12,000 to 19,000 barrels a day, that there was a completed estimate that was much higher.
In August, after the well had been capped, the government produced a new estimate as much as five times higher, based on better information from pressure readings and other analysis. It estimated that the oil flowed at a rate of 62,000 barrels of oil per day at first and later slowed to 53,000 barrels a day – 4.1 million barrels of oil from April to July.
The advocacy group sought the documents on estimates of the oil flow under the Freedom of Information Act. The USGS posted some of the requested materials on its website, but the group said in its lawsuit that it had sought hundreds more that the agency didn’t release.