I have been concerned this week, ever since the Wednesday press conference of NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco describing the government’s new “oil spill calculator”, the NY Times coverage here. The spin was unmistakable, 75% of the oil has gone missing and there is reason for great optimism.
The primary government document is a short read. From it you’ll learn that they can account for about 25% of the oil, burned or recovered. Then the primary distortion: the nearly half that is described as “chemically dispersed”, “naturally dispersed” and “evaporated or dissolved”. It is no longer oil! Kind of. The dispersed category accounts for small droplets of oil, “finer than a human hair”, that will undergo biodegradation, but in the meantime remain a serious environmental concern. Same for the hydrocarbons soluble in water. Still there, still an environmental concern.
The Consortium for Ocean Leadership, of which UW is a member institution, responded Friday afternoon. The Ocean Leadership statement reinforces my skepticism. The conclusion:
The American public needs to understand that this problem is not rapidly going away and based on previous oil spills, significant impact to the Gulf environment, ecosystems and communities will continue for many years.
Apparently the understanding of the American public is not going to be helped by its federal government. David Gregory quizzed Carol Browner, President Obama’s Senior Advisor on Energy and Climate Change, on NBC’s Meet the Press this morning. Asked twice about dispersed oil, in the context of her part of the spin during her appearance on NBC’s Today on Wednesday morning, she ran around the question continuing to distort the reality: 75% is not gone–75% is in the environment, most in the Gulf of Mexico, the remainder in the atmosphere.
Can we manage to keep our eye on the ball?