Study slams confusion, waste in BP oil spill response

McClatchy NewspapersOctober 6, 2010 

WASHINGTON — A report alleging that the Obama administration squelched efforts by government scientists to publicize the size of BP's Deepwater Horizon oil spill wasn't the only study critical of the government's response released Wednesday.

A second report, entitled "Decision-Making in the Unified Command," portrays the cleanup effort as confused, wasteful and often ineffective, and offers thinly veiled criticism of some of the key figures in the effort, including Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal.

Allen, who President Barack Obama appointed as the National Incident Commander to oversee the response, saw the center he ran as intended primarily "to deal with high-level political and media inquiries" and not to direct the response effort, the report said. As a result, the public was confused about who was in charge of the response, the report said.

Jindal became an obstacle to the response, the report said, when, 11 days into the disaster, he removed the state's on-scene commander and named himself to the post. "No one else had the authority to speak for the state, so all decisions had to flow through the governor's office, which slowed decision-making and caused problems in the response efforts," the report said. The governor's office disputed the characterization, saying Jindal had never appointed himself as the state's on-scene coordinator (see the update below).

One major misstep, this report said, was the Obama administration's decision in late May, as it was being slammed in the news media for responding too slowly, to triple the federal manpower and resources devoted to the spill.

"Coast Guard responders believed they were already throwing every resource they had at fighting the spill, but they dutifully tripled personnel and tracked their progress, at least for the state of Louisiana, in a regular report entitled 'Status of Tripling,'" the report said.

The result was wasted resources and effort, the report concluded.

"For example," the report said, "(Allen's) staff believed they needed to buy every skimmer they could find, even though they were hearing that responders on the ground had enough skimmers. . . . At the very least, tracking the 'status on tripling' was probably not the most important task for front line responders to be undertaking."

The battle for oil-containing boom among the states was another major drain on resources, the report found.

Because "boom became a symbol of how responsive the government was to local communities," the report said, "boom was placed everywhere, including in passes where swift tidal currents rendered it ineffective, and in places where it was unlikely to encounter oil."

"Responders were frustrated with the time they spent laying what was, in their view, unnecessary boom," the report said.

BP made the situation worse, the report said, by announcing on May 5 that it would give each Gulf coast state $25 million to spend as it saw fit. It subsequently gave Louisiana another $25 million and made smaller grants of $500,000 to $1 million to individual parishes.

"This money may also have had a detrimental effect on the overall response efforts," the report said. "For example, some of the money was spent by states and parishes to purchase boom directly, limiting the overall supply of boom available to the unified command and making it difficult for the unified command to make sure that the boom got to locations where it would be most helpful and not cause any additional environmental damage."

UPDATE: Lousiana Gov. Bobby Jindal's staff on Thursday disputed the contention that he had been an obstacle to the recovery and said that he'd never appointed himself to be the state's on-scene coordinator. "There are several errors throughout this report and we called the Commission to inform them of the errors," an e-mailed statement said, attributing the comment to Garret Graves, chairman of the state's Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority and Jindal's coastal affairs advisor. "They said this was still a draft report and they were working to revise and correct it. One of the most obvious errors is that the Governor was never named State on Scene Coordinator. Roland Guidry served in that role until he rotated back to Baton Rouge on May 31st and Jerome Zeringue then assumed that position.”

ON THE WEB

Staff Working Paper from the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling

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