NOAA Director Lubchenco Plays Dumb on Plumes

I”m not aware of any studies before this spill, to follow up on those plumes.

That’s what NOAA Director Jane Lubchenco claimed a week ago in response to a question from Louisiana Congressman Bill Cassidy.

Elizabeth Birnbaum, who was fired last week because she wasn’t engaged enough with this issue (or maybe because they wanted a scapegoat), apparently did know of the studies MMS has been doing going back a decade on the topic.

Well, now Lubchenco is trying to play even dumber than she did last week. As Dan Froomkin reports, she refuses to acknowledge what scientists have shown evidence of for weeks: that much of the oil released from the BP gusher has formed gigantic plumes far below the surface of the Gulf.

Despite more than three weeks of accumulating scientific evidence that gargantuan plumes of oil lurk beneath the surface of the Gulf of Mexico — presenting an imminent threat to sea life and a possibly decades-long threat to the nation’s coastlines — NOAA Director Jane Lubchenco on Wednesday refused to contradict BP CEO Tony Hayward’s statement over the weekend that “the oil is on the surface” and “there aren’t any plumes.”


“I can tell you that there have been a number of anomalies identified by a number of different cruises,” she told reporters in a conference call. “Those anomalies are features at various different depths in the water column that may be oil, they may be other features.”

“It is quite possible that there is oil beneath the surface,” Lubchenco finally acknowledged under repeated questioning. “I think there is reason to believe that may be the case.” But that’s as far as she would go.

More troubling, those ongoing studies Lubchenco boasted of to Congressman Cassidy? NOAA is sitting on the data.

HuffPost has learned that a NOAA-commissioned research cruise the week of May 10 took extensive samples up and down the water column near the Deepwater Horizon spill site — and that those samples have in fact been processed, and logged in with the incident command.

Deborah French McCay is the director of Applied Science Associates, an environmental consulting company based in Rhode Island that is working as part of NOAA’s Natural Resources Damage Assessment. She told HuffPost she organized a mission on the private research vessel Jack Fitz more than three weeks ago.

“They went out and sampled all the way up and down the water column,” she said. That included tests for chemistry, oil concentration, temperature, salinity, oil droplet size and so on. Preliminary descriptions clearly indicated the presence of oil beneath the surface — and the final lab results, she said, came in Monday night.

But NOAA hasn’t publicly released those results and a video showing the oil.

Remember how BP stalled before it agreed to release live videos of the oil gushing from its well? Presumably, BP didn’t want Americans to know just how bad this disaster is.

This NOAA stonewalling may be worse. The video may not so much evoke the emotional responses that the gusher and the robots do. But it shows that the disaster is far far worse than BP currently admits (and that estimates of the total flow may not have accounted for a significant portion of the oil). Worse, it suggests that the dispersants, which may be making the plumes worse, serve only to hide the damage.

BP has real incentives to hide the abundant evidence that the spill is far worse than we know–and may be doing grave danger underwater where we can’t see it.

But you and I pay Director Lubchenco to protect our seas and oceans. And instead, she seems increasingly complicit in BP’s efforts to cover-up the extent of their disaster.

61 replies
  1. Leen says:

    From a discussion on Washington Journal last week there seemed to be something coming about what was on the “surface” and “underwater”

  2. brac says:

    Wow! It’s taking over three weeks to analyze and correlate thousands of measurements. You are right! It could only be a cover up!

    • prostratedragon says:

      Just popping by a moment, because I want to go read thre rest of the Pelican scientists’ blog at (by the way, have you?).

      But, consider that the data recently gathered are, at least for that mission, being incorporated into a decade long project on those waters in the Gulf. Some analyses might take longer, but quite a bit of information can probably be extracted from updates that are generated almost immediately upon the addition of the new data points. I’ll just bet that most of the participating missions have similar existing databases and the technology to hit the ground running pretty fast for this situation; it’s likely why they were chosen.

  3. bobschacht says:

    With people like Lubchenco in charge, no wonder Adm. Thad thinks BP has all the experts. But that’s all a bunch of hooey. Why hasn’t Adm. Thad and NOAA consulted with the experts at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, and the other independent scientists at universities all around the Gulf states, and elsewhere. I’m really disappointed by the knowledge gap.

    Bob in AZ

  4. alinaustex says:

    The most immediate impact of the under seas oil plume will be to wipe out the larval stage of many pelagic species most notably the bluefin tuna –

  5. tjbs says:

    These plumes will destroy all trust in the government and the 1% who run the country in a year or two because there is no guarantee the relief wells will ever work, just a hope they will.

    At 25,000 barrels a day for a year would only amount to 36 million 500 thousand gallons from the blow out, while BP come up with the 56th plan to contain the oil blow out.

  6. JTMinIA says:

    At yesterday’s briefing, Lubchenco first stressed that our best scientists are studying all this [good so far] and then added two things. (1) The equipment being used is “really cool” and (2) the flow rate is being estimated by an “independent panel” of scientists “including BP.”

    I guess when she says that a panel including BP is “independent” she’s referring to herself.

    Meanwhile, Adm Allen talked about “producing product” from the well via the LMRP cap. Glad that he has his priorities straight, too.

  7. JTMinIA says:

    I also enjoy the pattern that BP and Allen have set up. BP first gives outrageous low-ball estimate. Allen then – looking tough – gives a higher one and fores BP to accept it. Meanwhile, truly independent scientists give estimates that can be an order of magnitude higher than Allen’s.

    Flow: BP 1000, Allen 5000, scientists 25,000-120,000

    Increase in flow if you cut kink off riser: BP 10%, Allen 20%, scientists 50-400%

  8. fatster says:

    O/T, w apologies

    SEC seeks to ban former ‘auto czar’ [Steven Rattner] from Wall St. activities for up to 3 years


    • fatster says:

      If you compare that adorable starfish picture with the video of her testifying, it looks like being out “in the field” doing all that research resulted in the sun bleaching the top of her hair-do, too.

  9. spanishinquisition says:

    BP has real incentives to hide the abundant evidence that the spill is far worse than we know–and may be doing grave danger underwater where we can’t see it.

    Both BP and Obama have incentives to cover-up. The worse the spill is, the worse it makes Obama look. Obama has already been caught lying about only having 30 days not being enough time review permit applications – it was a direct Bush line that the courts had already over-ruled before Obama took office.

  10. decotodd says:

    From Greenwald’s column today re: the 30-day issue:

    Even if that 3o-day excuse were true, it reflects very poorly on the administration. But as The Washington Post, in a good piece of reporting, noted on Tuesday: that excuse is false. An appellate court in 2008 rejected the 30-day interpretation now being asserted by Obama officials everywhere. That 9th Circuit ruling, in the case of Alaska Wilderness League, et al. v. Kempthorne, is really quite instructive to read, both because it illustrates how false is the excuse of Obama officials and, more generally, because of what it reveals about how completely co-opted MMS regulators are by the oil industry.

    • fatster says:

      According to this source, there is more:

      “In November 2008, the 9th Circuit ordered the MMS to vacate approval of Shell’s Plan of Exploration (POE), citing insufficient data on the potential impact to coastal communities.  The decision of the 9th Circuit creates an immense amount of uncertainty for Shell and puts Shell’s 2009 exploration plans in jeopardy.  In December 2008, Shell made the decision to cancel its 2009 drilling program. 

      “In March 2009, the 9th Circuit vacated the 2008 opinion in favor of issuing a new opinion on MMS approval of Shell’s POE.  It is unclear when the new opinion will be forthcoming. ”


    • bmaz says:

      Well, even without that decision, what I have said all along is that if there are problems and you as the governmental agency think it unsafe, just name the best basis for denial you got and deny. That forces BP or whatever extractor to challenge; which in turn gives you time if you need it. It simply was never the case that there were no options other than to sign off on the well at light speed.

  11. ShotoJamf says:

    But you and I pay Director Lubchenco to protect our seas and oceans. And instead, she seems increasingly complicit in BP’s efforts to cover-up the extent of their disaster.

    So what other consideration is on (or under) the table? Either she’s an idiot or she’s being greased – or has a promised to be greased at some future date. I admit to being a simpleton, but I just can’t see it any other way.

  12. Margaret says:

    More distressing to me is that Jane Lubchenco is no entrenched Bush appointee but a climate scientist with impeccable credentials. The ONLY reason she would have to cover for BP is if somebody (Orahma) in the administration ORDERED her to.

    • ShotoJamf says:

      If she was ordered to make these assertions and knows better, she should immediately resign. Failing that, her much vaunted credentials are worth diddly to me. If she doesn’t pull the plug now, her name will be dogshit in the history books.

      • Margaret says:

        If she was ordered to make these assertions and knows better, she should immediately resign.

        I thoroughly agree and maybe that Heinz Award she won in ’99 should be given up as well…

  13. papau says:

    I understand the plume data to date to be liquid density readings and she is saying that could be other things besides hydrocarbons – but others say she is playing games.

    In any case, she wants to go down a mile and sample the liquid – not easily done. Heck BP will not release the samples it has taken (?? I can’t even verify they have taken samples) that suggest the spill is a very high percentage gas. And until Obama gets a backbone and ORDERS BP to do some sampling, we will get BS from her. Maybe he can ask Hillary to order BP around since he seems so afraid of the corporations.

    • Mason says:

      And until Obama gets a backbone and ORDERS BP to do some sampling, we will get BS from her. Maybe he can ask Hillary to order BP around since he seems so afraid of the corporations.

      Trusting BP to do the sampling without cheating is every bit as insane as trusting the Israeli government to investigate the IDF slaughter of innocent people on a humanitarian mission to Gaza. Of course, the issue isn’t trust. The issue is money. Imagine how delighted Obama must be to have enriched himself beyond measure by selling out to BP and the Israelis.

      Lubchenko used to be a respected member the scientific community. I doubt she is anymore. That’s what happens when you sell out.

  14. Hmmm says:

    If the plumes are from the DWH well, then it’ll come out eventually. Ergo, this would be a delaying tactic only. If it’s only delaying the inevitable, and making it worse when it eventually arrives, then what motivation would explain this?

      • Hmmm says:

        Doubt that. This phenomenon worsens with time, and at an accelerating rate. If the cap fails then we’re only about 1/4 through the spillage, and that’s assuming the relief wells work as hoped — a highly questionable assumption. And of that 1/4 of the spill, much has not yet made landfall, so it seems to me the headlines are far from over. Unless you’re expecting some sort of global superseding event…?

    • RoyalOak says:

      They are probably hoping to delay it beyond the United States’ 60 second attention span for news.

        • fatster says:

          The Corexit camouflaged the oil, as I understand it, so maybe that’s why Lubchenco didn’t see any. But, no worries, BP–and the US–will still make millions. Whoopee.

          from McClatchy:

          BP, U.S. could make millions from runaway well


  15. findog says:


    BP dumps hundreds of thousands of gallons of dispersant, which works to break up and sink oil, so that it doesn’t float on the surface…yet some folks, including BP staff, pretend that there are no plumes of treated or untreated oil? Where did the millions of gallons of oil go?

    Of course out of sight, out of mind! Oil not on the beaches doesn’t have to be cleaned up. And if it surfaces in NC or Cuba or wherever, who can prove that it’s BP’s oil? Note that they’ve purposely mentioned “natural leaks” on the ocean floor and they downplay the amount of oil and the damage…and they work to prevent the press from seeing much of the death and destruction.

    How the head of NOAA can be so clueless is beyond me. This will prove to be the worst oil disaster in world history, I bet. I feel for all the creatures that are dying.

    And Gov. Barbour says that it’s akin to a human being covered with toothpaste?

    Where do these folks come from? How can they be so ignorant and heartless. Let’s get him covered in, swallowing and breathing toothpaste for starters…then toss him in oil. Like those in favor of waterboarding, until they try it themselves, he may become rapidly enlightened and change his way of thinking. Well, at least enlightened….the thinking, or lack of, is not apt to change.

  16. Margaret says:

    Where did the millions of gallons of oil go?

    Maybe to Darth Cheney’s undisclosed location….

  17. fatster says:

    Looks like those legs are very long, too.

    A Mystery: When Did Gov’t Exempt Gulf Drilling from Detailed Enviro Reviews?


  18. tetercreek says:

    This kind of careful talk sounds like lawyers are involved. I bet that somehow when the lawsuits are filed these kind of statements are going to be quoted to mitigate BP’s responsibility over what they knew when.

    In other words this woman, Admiral Allen, and a bunch of others have already been co-opted to serve their corporate masters.

  19. fatster says:

    Scarecrow has an article up on the main page right now complete with a video showing them lowering the cap onto the BOP.

  20. timbo says:

    They’re trying to buy enough time to dump their shares from the “blind trusts”. It’s really that simple–buy enough time to get a better position on the world markets and then, THEN the story breaks. The economy tanks but the insiders feel a lot less pain. Nice, huh?

    • fatster says:

      They’re now saying there are three leaks. Press release. I linked to it on the Koch thread (a few articles forward).

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