According to information obtained by a liberal environmentalist group, the White House deliberately misled the public about the amount of oil leaking into the Gulf of Mexico after the Deepwater Horizon disaster in April 2010.
The month after the spill, the administration announced that about 25,000 barrels per day of oil was being leaked into the Gulf. That estimate turned out to be wildly off the mark. About 53,000 bpd were being spilled.
According to emails obtained by the group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, the administration falsely reported the U.S. Geological Survey’s low-end estimate as its high-end estimate, dramatically downplaying the amount of oil flooding into the Gulf.
USGS director Marcia McNutt wrote the following on May 29:
I cannot tell you what a nightmare the past two days have been dealing with the communications people at the White House, DOI, and the NIC who seem incapable of understanding the concept of a lower bound. The press release that went out on our results was misleading and was not reviewed by a scientist for accuracy.
PEER also alleges that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration “maniputalted” data on the extent of the spill by marginalizing measurements that showed a significantly larger volume of oil seeping into the Gulf – measurements that turned out to be far more accurate.
Lehr was leader of one of the most important FRTG teams, the “Plume Team” which analyzed videos of the oil leaks to produce the first estimates. Three of the 13 Plume Team experts used a technique called Particle Image Velocimetry (PIV) to estimate a leak rate in the range of 25,000 bpd. But three other experts on the Plume Team reported that PIV was underestimating the size of the leak by more than 50%. Those three experts used a different technology to correctly peg the leak rate at 50,000 to 60,000 bpd.
Yet Lehr did not tell the public or key decision makers that there was a deep split on the Plume Team. In the Plume Team’s Final Report, the body of which Lehr wrote, he reported that “most of the Plume Team used PIV” which produced “consistent and accurate” estimates. These underestimates were repeated to the public and media.