Member of the Spill Commission Applauds Work of Independent Researchers


You can count on NPR for polite conversation on controversial issues, which can be a bit frustrating when a segment like “Science Friday” misses an opportunity to step up and ask some vital questions. But then again, in that type of relaxed environment, interviewees may also let their guard down and sometimes say more than they perhaps intended.

This weekend, NPR’s Ira Flatow interviewed LSU professor Christopher D’Elia; NOAA’s own science advisor Tracy Collier; and Don Boesch, who is president of the University of Maryland’s Center for Environmental Science and a member of the National Oil Spill Commission. It was an interesting conversation, but it could have been full of fireworks if the participants had taken a hard look at conflicting reports and why NOAA so often seems to be a division of BP.

Tracy Collier, of course, toes the NOAA line that Gulf seafood is safe and glosses over the inefficacy of the “sniff test.” But there were relatively few pressing follow-up questions about, for example, why the government uses ridiculously small serving sizes when determining toxicity levels for seafood consumers. That is the kind of flagrant manipulation of data that destroys any credibility behind the government’s “all clear” declaration.

My research team continues to report that seafood samples – including shrimp, crabs and oysters – are testing at dangerous levels for petroleum hydrocarbons and PAHs.

In the rather long segment, NPR’s Flatow does touch on the controversial lack of access afforded independent researchers, another issue we’ve covered repeatedly here on this blog. Flatow says that “…we also heard reports – and we have scientists on this program saying that while the plume was very active, they could not get near it. The government or BP would not allow them to go in and study the very thing that they needed to study about the science of that.”

Professor Don Boesch says that the national commission report “speaks to that,” and he makes a truly remarkable, if casual, charge against the government. He says that “…it was really oceanographers, interestingly, who used an instrument designed to measure current movement in the oceans, turned it sideways and put it on an ROV and measured the velocity and material coming out of that well that provided one of the most accurate measurements…and they had trouble getting to the well.”

It’s frustrating that nobody turns to the NOAA spokesperson and says “what’s up with that?” But here’s a member of the presidential commission admitting, on a nationwide radio program, that it was “really” the independent oceanographers who, despite being banned from the site, figured out the “most accurate” flow rates.

Why, then, does the commission not get that independent researchers are also finding better ways to test seafood and coming to scientific conclusions that are more accurate than those of BP and NOAA? And why act like “access” to the oil is a problem we’ve solved? Since September, access to samples of the BP spill oil has been shut down.

But now we have a presidential commission member on the record noting that access to the spill site was denied, and even under those difficult circumstances, it was independent researchers who figured out how much oil was gushing out of the Macondo well…it wasn’t NOAA and it wasn’t BP. And, really, that’s saying a lot.

Listen, or read, between the lines here:

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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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