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'Top Kill' Hype Collides With Reality

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All day yesterday, people across America were really, really excited about the latest and greatest method that BP was using to finally stop the gush of undersea oil into the Gulf of Mexico, the so-called Top Kill. "Woo, Top Kill," tweeted America. And across this great land, people planned Top Kill parties and new moms and dads were planning on naming their first born "Top Kill" to remember this heroic time in our lives and the Top Killingest day in the history of the world. Only as it turns out, there wasn't really any Top Kill happening!

This AP article from yesterday sets the scene:

At the White House on Thursday, Obama acknowledged that his administration could have done a better job dealing with the spill and that it misjudged the industry's ability to handle a worst-case scenario.

"I take responsibility. It is my job to make sure that everything is done to shut this down," Obama said at a news conference, where he announced a series of new restrictions on oil drilling projects.

BP PLC insisted the top kill was progressing as planned, though the company acknowledged drilling mud was escaping from the broken pipe along with the leaking crude.

"The fact that we had a bunch of mud going up the riser isn't ideal but it's not necessarily indicative of a problem," spokesman Tom Mueller said.

Early Thursday, officials said the process was going well, but later in the day they announced pumping had been suspended 16 hours earlier. BP did not characterize the suspension as a setback, and Eric Smith, associate director of the Tulane Energy Institute, said the move did not indicate the top kill had failed.

Hold up there, AP article! What is that you are saying there, in the 13th paragraph? Sixteen hours prior to the advent of "later in the day" on Thursday, the Top Kill was suspended? Which basically means that no Top Kill was happening on Thursday? That's awkward, because President Barack Obama started talking at about ten minutes to one yesterday and here's what he said:

Yesterday, the federal government gave BP approval to move forward with a procedure known as a "top kill" to try to stop the leak. This involves plugging the well with densely packed mud to prevent any more oil from escaping. And given the complexity of this procedure and the depth of the leak, this procedure offers no guarantee of success. But we're exploring any reasonable strategies to try and save the Gulf from a spill that may otherwise last until the relief wells are finished -- and that's a process that could take months.

The American people should know that from the moment this disaster began, the federal government has been in charge of the response effort. As far as I'm concerned, BP is responsible for this horrific disaster, and we will hold them fully accountable on behalf of the United States as well as the people and communities victimized by this tragedy. We will demand that they pay every dime they owe for the damage they've done and the painful losses that they've caused. And we will continue to take full advantage of the unique technology and expertise they have to help stop this leak.

But make no mistake: BP is operating at our direction. Every key decision and action they take must be approved by us in advance.

So is suspending the Top Kill many hours before the president talks about how the Top Kill is happening not a "key decision or action?" Maybe not. Still, it sort of undermines the idea that the administration is in command of the situation.

Well, how does BP explain that time they stopped all the Top Killing for many, many hours on a day when everyone in the country was being told by their president that Top Kill was a go? Basically, this:

"I probably should apologize to folks that we haven't been giving more data on that," Suttles said when asked why it took so long for BP to announce it had suspended the top kill. "It was nothing more than we are so focused on the operation itself."

I think I'll just highlight the latest chapter in Sarabeth Guthberg's legendary ownage of British Petroleum:

Hopefully, someone will hold Suttles' feet to the fire, and ask him to explain not just the sin of omission -- which can be dismissed with a "Ha, ha! Oops!" -- but all the sins of commission too. What was BP focused on when, long after the suspension, its spokesmen said that the operation had continued through the night, that there were "no significant events" to report, that the procedure was going as planned, that the process was going well?

I really hate to take the thrill out of the Top Kill, but there you go.

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