Watchdog groups file FOIA requests to learn true extent of oil spill

By Muriel Kane
Thursday, May 20, 2010 16:25 EDT
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Former EPA investigator charges, “What the government has done over the past several years is taught BP that it can do whatever it wants and will not be held accountable”

As the current Gulf oil spill crisis intensifies, previous incidents involving BP have begun coming under renewed scrutiny, intensifying suspicions that the company may be concealing the true extent of the spill.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) and Greenpeace have now filed four Freedom of Information Act requests seeking documents and video feeds.

“It is impossible to understand why the government hasn’t already made the video feed and other records documenting the impact of the spill public,” explained CREW executive director Melanie Sloan. “Americans have the right to any information that would allow an accurate assessment of the true dangers this oil spill has created.”

The requests were sent out late on Wednesday to the Coast Guard, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of the Interior, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

One of the strongest critics of BP is former EPA investigator Scott West, whose explosive charges concerning his investigation of a major BP oil spill on Alaska’s North Slope in 2006 were revealed in interviews with Jason Leopold at TruthOut and then with Amy Goodman at Democracy Now!

“In August of 2005, I was introduced to Chuck Hamel, who spoke to me about employees and workers on the North Slope providing information that the transit lines were full of sludge and were likely to suffer catastrophic failure,” West explained to Goodman. “I wanted to get in front of that upcoming spill and prevent the spill from occurring, but I found that the EPA and the federal government really had no controls over the operation of that pipeline.”

“Knowing that these workers had information that the pipeline would rupture and had provided that to their management and senior management and nothing had been done, that made that a [case for] criminal negligence, at the very least,” continued West. “We were preliminarily receiving [reports which] indicated that high-level management within BP, not only in the United States, but across the ocean and into London, were aware of the policies on the North Slope to forgo maintenance in exchange for saving money.”

To West’s shock, however, by 2007 “something had shifted dramatically” and he was told to cut his investigation short and settle out of court for a charge of corporate misdemeanor. Instead of penalties of $672 million and possible felony charges against BP executives, the government settled for a mere $20 million and no criminal charges.

“Now we’re seeing the same sort of thing in the Gulf,” West concluded. “What the government has done over the past several years is taught BP that it can do whatever it wants and will not be held accountable. So, decisions have been made, very poor decisions have been made, to increase profits and put workers at risk and been allowed and endorsed by the federal government.”

According to the Huffington Post, as of Wednesday BP had “relented” and agreed to release “a live video feed of the gushing oil well in the Gulf,” which was was supposed to be posted at the website of Rep. Edward Markey (D-MA), chairman of the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming. At the time of writing, however, the website appeared to be unreachable, and several Twitter posts were suggesting that “Markey’s ‘award-winning website’ gonna need more bandwidth.”

Muriel Kane
Muriel Kane
Muriel Kane is an associate editor at Raw Story. She joined Raw Story as a researcher in 2005, with a particular focus on the Jack Abramoff affair and other Bush administration scandals. She worked extensively with former investigative news managing editor Larisa Alexandrovna, with whom she has co-written numerous articles in addition to her own work. Prior to her association with Raw Story, she spent many years as an independent researcher and writer with a particular focus on history, literature, and contemporary social and political attitudes. Follow her on Twitter at @Muriel_Kane
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