October 12, 2010
President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500
Dear Mr. President:
On June 9, 2010, I wrote to express my concern over your Administration’s handling of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill (see attached letter). I raised specific questions about federal leadership in responding to this spill including: how much information federal officials had in their possession; how much of that information was based on BP’s propaganda as opposed to independently verified statistics; and how forthcoming federal officials were being with the public. In particular, I wrote:
I am concerned about the federal response to the disaster. It has become increasingly difficult to determine exactly who is in charge of the response to the oil spill…
Three days after the accident, the Coast Guard estimated that a full blowout could lead to a spill rate of 64,000 to 110,000 barrels per day. Yet, despite being warned by aides that this spill could quickly eclipse the Exxon Valdez incident, the Administration did not disclose these figures to the public.
The Administration’s seemingly blind acceptance of BP’s estimates and its deference to BP’s claims of propriety suggest a failure of leadership in the face of a developing crisis.
Initial reports released by the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill appear to confirm my worst fears about how this disaster was handled. The New York Times wrote:
The Obama administration failed to act upon or fully inform the public of its own worst-case estimates of the amount of oil gushing from the blown-out BP well, slowing response efforts and keeping the American people in the dark for weeks about the size of the disaster…
“By initially underestimating the amount of oil flow and then, at the end of the summer, appearing to underestimate the amount of oil remaining in the gulf,” one of the reports stated, “the federal government created the impression that it was either not fully competent to handle the spill or not fully candid with the American people about the scope of the problem.”
The reports also say that about two weeks after the BP rig exploded, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration asked the White House for permission to make public its worst-case models for the accident. The White House Office of Management and Budget initially denied the request, according to government officials interviewed by the commission’s staff members.
The government stuck to its public flow rate estimate of 5,000 barrels a day for more than a month, even though BP officials and government scientists acknowledged that the rate could be as high as 110,000 barrels a day.
Carol Browner, the White House coordinator for energy and climate change, declared on Aug. 4: “I think it’s also important to note that our scientists have done an initial assessment and more than three-quarters of the oil is gone. The vast majority of the oil is gone.”
But the commission staff members said the government’s own data did not support such sweeping conclusions, which were later scaled back. A number of respected independent researchers have concluded that as much as half of the spilled oil remains suspended in the water or buried on the seafloor and in coastal sludge.
Despite subsequent efforts by my staff, I have yet to receive a reply to my June letter.
As we wait for the release of the final report next year, I urge you to initiate a separate, internal investigation, concurrent with the National Commission’s investigation. It would send a strong message to the American people if you accepted responsibility for the Administration’s mishandling of this disaster.
Your outrage over the oil spill was clear a few months ago when you explained that you wanted to determine “whose ass to kick” for this disaster. The National Commission reports make it clear that the answer, in part, lies within your own Administration.
I would appreciate a response to this and my June 9 letter by Friday October 29, 2010. If your staff has any questions about my inquiries, please have them contact Raj Bharwani at the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming at (202) 225-0110.
F. James Sensenbrenner, Jr.
Select Committee on Energy Independence
and Global Warming
Cc. Carol Browner, Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change
 John Broder, Report Slams Administration for Underestimating Gulf Spill, The New York Times (October 6, 2010), available at http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/07/science/earth/07spill.html?_r=3&sq=bp oil spill&st=cse&scp=2&pagewanted=print.
Please click here to view the letter