oil spill

As BP withholds information on impact of massive oil spill, Coast Guard says that 'embedded' media have been allowed to cover response effort

As oil from the massive BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico approached the US coastline, a CBS News crew was threatened by the US Coast Guard with arrest if they attempted to film a beach in South Pass, Louisiana.

"When we tried to reach the beach ... a boat of BP contractors with two Coast Guard officers on board told us to turn around under threat of arrest," CBS's Kelly Cobiella reported on Tuesday.

This is BP's rules, it's not ours," an officer can be seen calling from the other boat in the CBS video.

"We spoke to Coast Guard officials today," Cobiella concluded. "They say they are looking into it."

Since this initial brief report, the CBS video clip has been widely reposted, but there has apparently been no followup from either CBS or BP. The Coast Guard, however, released a statement from Rob Wyman, Lieutenant Commander, USCG, Deepwater Horizon Unified Command.
Neither BP nor the U.S. Coast Guard, who are responding to the spill, have any rules in place that would prohibit media access to impacted areas and we were disappointed to hear of this incident. In fact, media has been actively embedded and allowed to cover response efforts since this response began, with more than 400 embeds aboard boats and aircraft to date. Just today 16 members of the press observed clean-up operations on a vessel out of Venice, La.

The only time anyone would be asked to move from an area would be if there were safety concerns, or they were interfering with response operations. This did occur off South Pass Monday which may have caused the confusion reported by CBS today.

The entities involved in the Deepwater Horizon/BP Response have already reiterated these media access guidelines to personnel involved in the response and hope it prevents any future confusion.
This statement has provoked additional concerns, however, since it apparently indicates that the practice of military "embeds" is being extended to this domestic crisis.

OpEdNews, for example, comments that "this raises many questions about what Americans are able to access and not access, what they are able to document and not document. Should a person have to be embedded with authorities, corporations or organizations at the center of a disaster in order to document a disaster? Must a person be with a recognized news organization that regularly gets into press conferences in order to film critical events like the BP oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico right now?"

As a result of what appears to be a clamp-down on news coverage, speculation about an official cover-up has run wild and the CBS story is being referenced by sites such as ProPublica, where Marian Wang comments that "BP hasn't yet been able to stop the flow of oil, but it's been more successful at controlling the information coming out about the Gulf disaster."

Wang ties the CBS incident to a McClatchy report that BP "hasn't publicly divulged the results of tests on the extent of workers' exposure to evaporating oil or from the burning of crude over the gulf, even though researchers say that data is crucial in determining whether the conditions are safe."

"Unlike the response to other past national disasters such as Hurricane Katrina where the government was in charge," the McClatchy story continues, "BP has been designated as the 'responsible party' under federal law and is overseeing much of the response to the spill. The government is acting more as an adviser. So far, the government has been slow to press BP to release its data and permit others to evaluate the extent of the crisis."

The New York Times further reports, "Tensions between the Obama administration and the scientific community over the gulf oil spill are escalating, with prominent oceanographers accusing the government of failing to conduct an adequate scientific analysis of the damage and of allowing BP to obscure the spill's true scope."

"The scientists point out that in the month since the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded, the government has failed to make public a single test result on water from the deep ocean," the Times observes. "And the scientists say the administration has been too reluctant to demand an accurate analysis of how many gallons of oil are flowing into the sea from the gushing oil well."

In the absence of hard reporting, anecdotal observations from environment bloggers have become a primary source of additional information.

Raleigh Hoke,. the Mississippi organizer for the Gulf Restoration Network, commented on Wednesday, "Since this catastrophe first began almost a month ago, BP has attempted to restrict independent monitoring of the spill site and its impacts, and has worked to restrict data from the public and independent experts. For example, on the Saturday after the spill officials refused to allow GRN to fly over the site in order to survey the extent of the slick and cleanup efforts."

Green technology blogger Karl Burkart similarly wrote, "Contacts in Louisiana have given me numerous, unconfirmed reports of cameras and cell phones being confiscated, scientists with monitoring equipment being turned away, and local reporters blocked from access to public lands impacted by the oil spill."

"The Obama administration, it appears, has higher priorities," Burkart suggested, "namely helping BP in its frantic efforts to keep the public in the dark about what is almost surely the worst environmental catastrophe in U.S. history."