Growing suspicions government is helping BP whitewash damage to the Gulf Coast

Around the Gulf of Mexico, people are collecting samples of water, soil and dead animals and sending them for testing. The results could cost BP billions of dollars.

An honest analysis would ensure that samples are sent to: 1) a variety of laboratories, so no one lab could manipulate the results; and, 2) laboratories with no strong ties to and economic dependence on the oil industry.

Instead, the government is requiring all samples to be sent to a single company with strong ties to the oil industry:

the laboratory that officials have chosen to process virtually all of the samples is part of an oil and gas services company in Texas that counts oil firms, including BP, among its biggest clients.

Some people are questioning the independence of the Texas lab. Taylor Kirschenfeld, an environmental official for Escambia County, Fla., rebuffed instructions from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to send water samples to the lab, which is based at TDI-Brooks International in College Station, Tex. He opted instead to get a waiver so he could send his county’s samples to a local laboratory that is licensed to do the same tests.

Mr. Kirschenfeld said he was also troubled by another rule. Local animal rescue workers have volunteered to help treat birds affected by the slick and to collect data that would also be used to help calculate penalties for the spill. But federal officials have told the volunteers that the work must be done by a company hired by BP.

“Everywhere you look, if you look, you start seeing these conflicts of interest in how this disaster is getting handled,” Mr. Kirschenfeld said. “I’m not a conspiracy theorist, but there is just too much overlap between these people.”

…In deciding where to send their water, sediment and tissue samples, state environmental officials in Florida and Louisiana said NOAA instructed them to send them to BB Laboratories, which is run by TDI-Brooks.

Though Florida has its own state laboratory that is certified to analyze the same data, Amy Graham, a spokeswoman for the Department of Environmental Protection there, said the state was sending samples to B & B “in an effort to ensure consistency and quality assurance.”

Scott Smullen, a spokesman for NOAA, said that two other labs, Alpha Analytics and Columbia Analytical Services, had also been contracted, but officials at those labs said B & B was taking the lead role and receiving virtually all of the samples.

…TDI-Brooks is also described by one industry partner on its Web site as being “widely acknowledged as the world leader in offshore oil and gas field exploration services.”

The Web site says that since 1996, it has “collected nearly 10,000 deep-water piston core sediment samples and heat flow stations for every major oil company.”

Posted by James on Friday, May 21, 2010