Congressional Report Claims Administration Misled About Efforts on Oil Spill

July 1, 2010 - 4:13 PM
Billy Nungesser, president of Louisiana's Plaquemines Parish, sensed that a chart showing 140 oil skimmers at work -- given to him by BP and the Coast Guard -- was 'somewhat inaccurate.' He was right, says a new report.
oil spill

Skimming oil in Pensacola Bay, Fla., on Saturday, June 26, 2010. Small amounts of the oil from the BP-Deepwater Horizon disaster have started coming ashore on the Florida and Alabama coast. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)

(CNSNews.com) – Billy Nungesser, president of Louisiana's Plaquemines Parish, sensed that a chart showing 140 oil skimmers at work -- a chart given to him by BP and the Coast Guard -- was “somewhat inaccurate.” So, Nungesser asked to fly over the spill to verify the number.

The flyover was cancelled three times before those officials admitted that just 31 of the 140 skimmers were actually deployed.

The incident is detailed in a report released Thursday by Republicans on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Republicans say the report provides evidence that the Obama administration misrepresented the assets devoted to the cleanup, misrepresented the timing of when government officials knew there was an oil spill and misrepresented the level of control the government had over the matter. It also claims the Obama administration seemed more interested in public relations than cleaning the mess and plugging the hole.  
 
The report, which relies on interviews with several local officials in Louisiana, goes on to quote Nungesser, who had been on local and national television enough so that the White House became concerned. Two White House officials visited him on Father’s Day and said, “What do we have to do to keep you off TV?” His answer was, “Give me what I need.”
 
Other Parish officials said the administration did not provide as many assets as it claimed. One Parish official called these “phantom assets.”
 
The report also states that the people in the Gulf do not support President Obama’s six-month moratorium on offshore drilling, and also criticized Obama’s delay in allowing international assistance until 70 days into the spill.  
 
“This report reveals a stark contrast between the narrative being told by the administration in Washington and the sobering realities and challenges that the people closest to this catastrophe are struggling to overcome,” said Rep. Darrell Issa, ranking Republican on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
 
“These testimonials from the people who are on the frontlines of this crisis have brought to light a bureaucratic quagmire that is exacerbating the response and clean-up effort - in a post-Katrina world, this is unimaginable and unacceptable,” Issa said.
 
“The evidence on the ground suggests that the White House has been more focused on the public relations of this crisis than with providing local officials the resources they need to deal with it,” he added.
 
On April 20, an explosion rocked Deepwater Horizon, which was under contract with BP to build an exploratory well off the Gulf of Mexico. This explosion has prompted some to call it the worst oil spill in history. As of June 30, the federal government estimates that between 40.7 million gallon and 117.6 millions of oil was released into the gulf.
 
Though Obama administration officials have said they were not fully aware that the Deepwater Horizon explosion had caused a major oil spill, the report cast doubt on that assertion.
 
“Situation reports also indicate that on April 21, 2010, Coast Guard personnel warned senior officials within their own chain of command, the Department of Homeland Security, and elements of the Defense Department’s Joint Staff, of a possible 8,000 barrel-per-day leak,” the House Oversight report said.
 
“They also described oil sheen, two miles by one-half mile, with 50 percent coverage with color ranging from dark to barely visible,” the report said. “On April 22, 2010, personnel reported to the national response center ‘what appeared to be a large area of bubbles in the water, possible natural gas leak.’
 
“On April 23, 2010, a Coast Guard situation report begins referring to the site as an ‘oil spill area.’ This evidence casts serious doubt upon the White House’s assertion that there was no apparent leak until April 24, 2010,” the report added.
 
The report begins with a May 2 quote from Obama.
 
“Let me be clear: BP is responsible for this leak; BP will be paying the bill. But as president of the United States, I'm going to spare no effort to respond to this crisis for as long as it continues,” Obama said.
 
“And we will spare no resource to clean up whatever damage is caused. And while there will be time to fully investigate what happened on that rig and hold responsible parties accountable, our focus now is on a fully coordinated, relentless response effort to stop the leak and prevent more damage to the gulf,” the president added.
 
But the federal government has not been in charge from the beginning, local officials told committee staff.
 
“Parish officials maintain that the federal government has not been in control since day one. In four separate interviews, senior-ranking Parish officials described how, until the President’s visit on May 28, 2010, BP was in charge,” the report said. “According to one official, ‘until two weeks ago [after the President’s May 28, 2010, visit], BP was in charge and the Coast Guard looked to them for direction.’ Furthermore, ‘Coast Guard asks BP,’ not vice-versa.’”
 
The report also criticized the administration for having no plan for the summer storm season in the gulf, with a projected 16 named storms, six-to-eight-hurricanes and three-to-five major hurricanes. “Some experts have warned that meteorological conditions mirror 2005, the year of Hurricane Katrina,” the report said.
 
It also criticized Obama for not getting a waiver to the Jones Act of 1920 that blocks foreign vessels that could be used to help in the clean up. 
 
“While administration officials have maintained that the Jones Act is not an obstacle and going so far as to claim that “nobody has come forward with a Jones Act Waiver [request], the Deputy Administrator of the Maritime Administration confirmed that one foreign flagged skimmer has made a Jones Act request, which was denied ostensibly because American vessels could perform the same functions,” the report said.