Oil spill report sketches anatomy of a flawed US response in Gulf
A presidential commission assessing the US response to the Gulf oil spill identifies flaws in the White House reaction. It finds that the government acted at times either incompetently or without candor.
The Obama administration lagged in its initial response to the BP oil spill, played down spill projections, ultimately overreacted, and injected politics into the spill response, according to a report by President Obama's own oil spill commission.Skip to next paragraph
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For close watchers of the oil spill – including millions of Americans, especially on the Gulf Coast – the preliminary findings of the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling are hardly surprising, given the wall-to-wall coverage of and commentary about the almost three-month-long ordeal. Some 4.4 million barrels of oil (or about 184 million gallons) of light Louisiana crude spewed into the Gulf of Mexico before the Macondo well was capped on July 15.
The White House on Wednesday pushed back against the commission's assertion that the administration response was either not competent or "not fully candid" with the American people. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, tasked with assessing the damage, said in a statement, "The facts bear out that the federal response significantly mitigated the impact of the spill."
The report, to be submitted in final form at year's end, may ultimately prove embarrassing or politically damaging for the White House. Yet the late-in-the-game transparency, added to the "fog of war" considerations of the early days of the spill, may yet stand as a candid moment of reflection for a young White House and the agency chiefs who responded to what became the worst commercial oil spill in US history. The report also suggests there is a need to clarify the "national incident" command structure for the public – and for the government itself.
"The oil spill was nowhere near 'Obama's Katrina,' as many claimed it would be," writes Time's Jeffrey Kluger, in reference to the damage the hurricane inflicted on the reputation of President George W. Bush. "But nor was it the Administration's finest hour. The President likes to talk about teachable moments; let's hope this was one of them – and that the White House itself learned a few things too."
The findings, revealed in four draft reports unveiled Wednesday, primarily criticized the administration's early public estimates of the amount of oil spilling into the Gulf, which were 12 times smaller than the final flow rate released in early June.