Back in late July, after a summer of struggle, the underwater oil spill caused by the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Rig was finally capped. And then, something wonderful and miraculous happened! The media started remarking that all of the millions of gallons of oil that poured into the Gulf of Mexico just disappeared! Raptured up into Oil Heaven, even!
Except: not. After absorbing the first spate of media gushing about the wonderful disappearance of all the oil, Mother Jones reporter Mac McClelland sent out a couple of text messages to contacts in the area, asking if they could find any oil, and the response she got back was, "Yes, the oil, it is everywhere."
But that's not stopped the administration from taking the line that the oil's disappearance is unalloyed good news, and that it's safe for the bon temps to roulez once more. Huffington Post's own Ben Craw has produced the essential mash-up video of White House Happy Talk, which gets downright hypnotic, in places:
As Huffington Post's own Dan Froomkin has documented, administration estimates may have been "overly optimistic." Representative Ed Markey (D-Mass.) was quick to call out the White House for promoting a rosy scenario without providing the data to back up their claims. Markey was subsequently joined by Representative Darrell Issa (R-Calif.). They had good reason: many independent scientists, studying the matter on their own, "rejected the government's claims."
When Froomkin talked to Rick Steiner, a marine conservationist who's studied oil spills since the Exxon Valdez disaster, Steiner put it pretty bluntly:
The first thing we talked about was that NOAA report. Steiner said it was obviously full of guesswork -- and bad guesswork at that. "They shouldn't have even tried to issue these numbers right now," he said. "I smell politics all over it. The only plausible explanation is they were in a rush to hang the 'Mission Accomplished' banner."
UPDATE: Contra Steiner, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs stated earlier this month: "There's a lot of reasons why there's no 'mission accomplished' banner, because there's a lot of work to do. We're not leaving the area. And, more importantly, we're not leaving behind any commitment to clean up what's been -- the damage that's been done and repair and restore the Gulf."
And Steiner suspects the 10 percent recovery rate for BP is actually overstated. The report based its conclusions on operational reports showing that 11.1 million gallons of oil were burned and 34.7 million gallons of oily water were recovered through skimming.
But Steiner said the actual amount of oil recovered could be about half what the report claims. The oil-water mix, which officials evidently assumed was 20 percent oil, could well have been closer to 10 percent, he said. As for the burned oil figures, "they are simply coming from the BP contractors out there and then put into the Incident Command reports as gospel. As far as I know, there was no independent observation or estimation of those numbers."
And there's something else the government seems to have forgotten about when it comes to burning crude oil: "That's not technically removing it from the environment." Steiner said. "It either went into the air as atmospheric emissions, and some of that is pretty toxic stuff, or there's a residue from burning crude that sinks to the ocean floor, sometimes in big thick mats."
And oil is still turning up everywhere -- here's a series of videos, posted today at Florida Oil Spill Law, documenting the presence of oil on the shores of Florida's "Big Bend."
Of course, beyond the mystery of the missing oil, there's plenty of reasons to call out the administration for suggesting there's nothing but "good news" to be had. On last night's Countdown, for example, Nicole LaMoureux, the executive director of the National Association of Free Clinics said that the influx of patients seeking care at Gulf region free clinics was so massive that it was "quite disturbing." And in Terrebonne Parish, something is killing all the birds (I'm going to warn you that the video that follows is immensely upsetting to watch):
UPDATE II: We tweaked the headline of this piece to ensure that no one mistakenly assumed that an Obama administration official had declared 'Mission Accomplished' on the Gulf spill.