USF says government tried to squelch their oil plume findings
By Craig Pittman
Tuesday, August 10, 2010
A month after the Deepwater Horizon disaster began, scientists from the University of South Florida made a startling announcement. They had found signs that the oil spewing from the well had formed a 6-mile-wide plume snaking along in the deepest recesses of the gulf.
The reaction that USF announcement received from the Coast Guard and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the federal agencies that sponsored their research:
“I got lambasted by the Coast Guard and NOAA when we said there was undersea oil,” USF marine sciences dean William Hogarth said. Some officials even told him to retract USF’s public announcement, he said, comparing it to being “beat up” by federal officials.
The USF scientists weren’t alone. Vernon Asper, an oceanographer at the University of Southern Mississippi, was part of a similar effort that met with a similar reaction. “We expected that NOAA would be pleased because we found something very, very interesting,” Asper said. “NOAA instead responded by trying to discredit us. It was just a shock to us.”
NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco, in comments she made to reporters in May, expressed strong skepticism about the existence of undersea oil plumes — as did BP’s then-CEO, Tony Hayward.
“She basically called us inept idiots,” Asper said. “We took that very personally.”
Lubchenco confirmed Monday that her agency told USF and other academic institutions involved in the study of undersea plumes that they should hold off talking so openly about it. “What we asked for, was for people to stop speculating before they had a chance to analyze what they were finding,” Lubchenco said. “We think that’s in everybody’s interest. … We just wanted to try to make sure that we knew something before we speculated about it.”
“We had solid evidence, rock solid,” Asper said. “We weren’t speculating.” If he had to do it over again, he said, he’d do it all exactly the same way, despite Lubchenco’s ire.
Coast Guard officials did not respond to a request for comment on Hogarth’s accusation.