Gulf Reopens for Drilling as Obama Administration Accused of Low-Balling Effects of Spill

As the Obama administration announces the launch of its Blueprint for a Secure Energy Future, including a plan to lease oil and gas production in parts of the Gulf of Mexico, a scientific integrity complaint alleges that officials “manipulated” scientific data about the effects of the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil leak.

Nearly two years after the March 2010 spill, the administration's new policy plans to open 38 million acres offshore of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama to possible development in June 2012. The area will be available to deepwater drilling, said a press release from the Department of the Interior.

Meanwhile, scientific information surrounding the early days of the leak has been thrown further into question. The Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) group filed a complaint Monday based on documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act Request that found “numbers presented to the public were less than half the true flow rate.”

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How this complaint is dealt with will indicate the administration's ability to abide by environmental rules, said PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch.

“This complaint serves as a litmus test as to whether the Obama administration will apply its scientific integrity rules to its own actions,” said Ruch. “Hopefully, the investigation of this complaint will force the immediate release of the full deliberations so that the scientific record can be set straight.”

The PEER complaint focuses on the narrative behind the downplaying of the spill size in the first weeks of the disaster. Scientists from the Flow Rate Technical Group (FRTG) were initially told that their leak figures were low-balled by a request from the White House and Peter Lehr, a leader of the FRTG team, also minimized the results of the spill. Lehr also authored the “Oil Budget Calculator,” which found 75 percent of oil gone in August 2010.

This is not the first time that science analyzing the oil damage to the Gulf of Mexico has been in question. In the early days of the leak, he administration came under fire for accepting BP's damage estimates without question, and documents obtained last April by Greenpeace showed the company discussing attempts to influence scientists researching the spill's impact.