On May 22, 2010, President Obama established the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling, to investigate the Gulf of Mexico disaster and recommend policies to guard against future offshore disasters, as recommended by the Wonk Room earlier that month. Today, as the commission nears its six-month deadline, it has issued several staff-written draft reports on contentious topics, from dispersants to oil flow estimates.
On the scope of the disaster
The commission sharply criticized the government’s failure to correctly estimate the scope of the disaster:
By initially underestimating the amount of oil flow and then, at the end of the summer, appearing to underestimate the amount of oil remaining in the Gulf, the federal government created the impression that it was either not fully competent to handle the spill or not fully candid with the American people about the scope of the problem.
“Throughout the first month of the spill, government responders officially adhered to what we now know were low and inaccurate estimates,” the commission writes. “Non-governmental scientists, on the other hand, used the small amount of publicly available flow data to generate estimates that have proven to be much more accurate.” The government took an “overly casual approach” in determining its 5000-barrel-a-day estimate, the report finds: the rough guess of one NOAA scientist, who was not an expert in flow rate estimates.
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