Tests of crude oil collected by the Coast Guard off Louisiana beaches last weekend, conducted by a scientist at Louisiana State University who deemed the results “conclusive,” appear to match the chemical “fingerprint” of crude oil taken from the hurricane-damaged well that Anglo-Suisse was trying to permanently plug. Anglo-Suisse is disputing this and is hiring their own lab to investigate.
If the Coast Guard’s conclusion is correct, then Anglo-Suisse grossly underreported the amount of oil that spilled from their well. They reported to the National Response Center (NRC) that only about 4 gallons were released.
This calls into question the reliability of the NRC system. The NRC is the place polluters call whenever they spill oil. Government agencies determine if a cleanup response is warranted based on the size of the spill in the report. And it’s probably the main source of data industry uses to make the claim that not much oil is spilled from offshore oil development. We see some obvious problems with this setup, including gross mismatch between the reported amounts spilled and the size of observable oil slicks.
If fines are very low (or nonexistent) for reporting a spill – and nobody from the state or federal agencies is going to come out to check up on you if you’ve reported a small spill – then you can see how companies might be tempted to systematically underreport their pollution incidents. Who wouldn’t?
With the heightened sensitivity and scrutiny in the Gulf now, maybe it’s time to reevaluate this fundamentally flawed system. Poor, or patently inaccurate, information can lead to hysteria now whenever oil appears. And that doesn’t do the oil, fishing or tourism industries any good.