BP has a website to trash the research it pays for


Over the last five years, it’s gotten a little easier to understand why BP committed the series of monumental errors that led to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon rig catastrophe. The company seems to have no idea what it’s doing. Recently, we’ve seen the British oil giant argue vociferously in court on behalf of its multi-billion settlement with Gulf businesses and ailing residents — only to then spend a small fortune to try to get that very same settlement overturned. These kind of flip-flops are endemic to BP. Recently, the firm spent also expended a lot of energy to try to oust the oil-spill claims administrator, Patrick Juneau, only to turn around and say…nevermind.

This kind of corporate bipolar disorder actually runs throughout BP’s long, angst-ridden response to the disaster that killed 11 people and let loose a record 5 million barrels of crude oil into the Gulf. It wants so desperately to play the role of good corporate citizen, but when presented with the overwhelming evidence that the environmental impacts of the oil spill are far from over, BP’s attitude remains no different that it was back in April 2010: Deny and deflect blame.

One of the many, many unfortunate occurrences in the aftermath of the disaster has been the trail of broken promises relating to scientific research. Since the early days of the spill, both BP and the federal government have kept a tight lid on academics from reporting their findings from investigations that were paid for BP, and tried to cast doubt on any research that doesn’t fit their narrative that the Gulf has rebounded back to life. Five years later, some scientists are finally beginning to publish the fruits of their BP-funded research. It’s hard to say which is less surprising: The fact that this environmental research is showing lasting, severe impact from the oil spill, or that BP is going to great lengths to denigrate these reports rather than embracing them.

Here’s the latest outrage:

Take a look at The Whole Story. It’s a webpage operated by the London-based company that regularly addresses what BP calls “misinformation” about the region’s recovery and legal issues surrounding the 130-million-gallon (500-million-liter) spill, the largest in U.S. history.

BP recently spent 525 words on what it termed the “questionable science” behind a study by oceanographer Jeff Chanton addressing an abiding mystery: What happened to the crude that never washed ashore? His finding: As much as 5 percent of the oil that poured from the Macondo well settled at the bottom of the Gulf, potentially damaging the ecosystem for years.

The study was “problematic in many ways,” according to BP’s Whole Story page. Chanton didn’t prove sediment he sampled was directly linked to Macondo, instead of oil seeping naturally from the sea floor, according to the BP report.

The website addresses a broad range of issues related to the spill. That includes research that, in many cases, BP paid for itself through an initiative it funds, but doesn’t control in any way. Access to the $500-million fund is determined solely by a separate panel of academics, appointed through discussions with the White House, Gulf state governments, and BP.

Chanton’s research is among the studies paid for by that fund. A professor at Florida State University in Tallahassee, Chanton said he sticks by his methodology for the study, which was published in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Science & Technology. The company’s response surprised him, he said. “It’s fine for (BP) to have their say,” Chanton said in an interview. “I just don’t understand why they aren’t taking credit. They’re funding all this work. Why aren’t they proud?”

Either Chanton is being sarcastic or he hasn’t been paying attention the last five years. This type of behavior is not an anomaly but rather the cornerstone of BP’s behavior — to undo its own settlement, to contest legitimate claims as well as any and all fines and penalties, to make outrageous claims about the integrity of anyone who opposes them, and to contest any research that makes the not-so-surprising finding that 5 million barrels of oil has done lasting harm. This is at the very heart of why my law firm hired independent researchers starting in 2010, why I launched this blog, and why I published my book, Crude Justice: How I Fought Big Oil and Won, and What You Should Know About the New Environmental Attack on America. The multi-million-dollar deceit machine of BP and its Big Oil rivals is relentless and needs to be fought at every turn.

Find out more about our battles to keep BP honest in my book, Crude Justice: How I Fought Big Oil and Won, and What You Should Know About the New Environmental Attack on America: http://shop.benbellabooks.com/crude-justice

Read more about BP’s efforts to trash environmental research into the aftermath of the oil spill: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-03-12/bp-labors-to-cast-doubt-on-gulf-spill-study-it-dislikes

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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