Issa report questions administration's spill response
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), ranking member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, has released excerpts of a new GOP report charging that the White House has mismanaged key elements of its response to the BP oil spill.
In one section, Issa's report quotes Nungesser questioning a map of the gulf that identified the locations of 140 oil-skimming vessels.
"Sensing that the chart may have been somewhat inaccurate, Mr. Nungesser requested a flyover of the assets for verification," the report states. "After three cancelled trips, officials admitted to Mr. Nungesser that only 31 of the 140 skimmers were ever deployed. The rest were sitting at the docks. According to Mr. Nungesser, the chart appeared to have been fabricated."
The report states that Nungesser "was apparently visited by two White House officials at his office on Fathers' Day," and the parish president said they asked them, "What do we have to do to keep you off t.v.?" But it does not say if congressional staffers had corroborated this account for Issa's investigators.
In another section, the report states the U.S. government has been slow to accept foreign assistance in dealing with the spill because of the Jones Act, a decades-old law that limits the activities of foreign vessels in U.S. waters.
"According to local officials, the decision to not waive the Jones Act has impaired Gulf Coast clean-up efforts," the report reads. "The most likely application of a broad-based Jones Act waiver would be for the operation of boats equipped with skimmers, which is one of the most effective tools to clean up the oil."
Accepting international help for oil spill cleanup has been a six-week process, govt official says
The Obama administration knew over a month ago that it needed help from international ships to clean up the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, but is just now close to utilizing their assistance, a top government official said Thursday.
The government realized they needed help in skimming from foreign ships once estimates of the amount of oil leaking from the Horizon Deepwater well were revised upward significantly, said National Incident Commander Thad Allen.
“Four to six weeks ago we saw the … shifting landscape from booming requirements to skimming requirements. We talked to State Department. They sent a cable out – I believe it was around the 13th of June actually – soliciting input from the countries. A lot of that has come back now. We’re in the process where we can screen it, actually do letters of acceptance. And we’re moving on that right now,” Allen said.
“We have well over 100 offers. We’re going over them right now. Roughly about 40 of those have been accepted. And we’re reviewing all those right now,” he continued.
The oil spill began on or around April 20 when the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded and sank to the ocean floor. Under the time line outlined by Allen, the government’s realization that they needed more ships to help with skimming the Gulf for oil came about a month after the crisis began, while the red tape-laden process to procure that help has taken six weeks.
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs disputed reports that said the announcement Tuesday from the State Department was the first time the Obama administration has accepted help from other countries or from international ships.
“There were already 24 foreign vessels that were already operating in the gulf before the State Department announced two days ago additional international assistance. As early as May 11, boom had arrived from Mexico, Norway and Brazil,” Gibbs said.
Gibbs also said it is a “myth” that President Obama’s refusal to waive the Jones Act — which prohibits foreign ships from operating in or around U.S. ports — has harmed the cleanup effort.
Allen, who retired Wednesday from his position as a Coast Guard admiral and briefed reporters at the White House Thursday in a business suit next to Gibbs, also said that the president’s June 15 promise that 90 percent of the oil leaking out of the well would be captured “in the coming weeks and days” was still a few weeks from becoming reality.
Allen gave more details on why the ‘A-Whale’ – a retro-fitted tanker vessel that is capable of scooping up 500,000 barrels of oily water a day – has not yet been cleared for operating in the Gulf.
He said the area around the sunken Deepwater Horizon oil well is “very congested” with 20 to 30 vessels, and that the ‘A-Whale’ would only be effective in or around that area.
“That’s when it comes up as a pretty good size slick. It becomes pretty disaggregated after that. So if you have a huge tanker capable of 21 million gallon capacity chasing down half a mile slicks, that’s probably a different kind of platform you want to use for it,” Allen said.
Meanwhile, local officials along the Gulf Coast have alleged that the federal government has sent them “phantom assets” to help clean up the oil spill, overstating the number of skimming ships, boom and dispersants, according to a report released Thursday by a top Republican lawmaker.
A Jefferson Parish homeland security official, Deano Bonano, told congressional staffers that “the number of assets claimed does not appear to match what is actually in the field.”
“He explained that when he asks the federal government to provide the location of its assets, it either refuses or cannot do so,” said the report released by Rep. Darrell Issa, California Republican and ranking member on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
Another parish official, President Billy Nungesser of Plaquemines Parish, asked Coast Guard and BP officials to verify the “exact locations” of the 140 skimmers they had told him were cleaning up oil off of Louisiana’s coast.
“After three cancelled trips, officials admitted to Mr. Nungesser that only 31 of the 140 skimmers were ever deployed. The rest were sitting at the docks. According to Mr. Nungesser, the chart appeared to have been fabricated,” the report stated.
A BP spokesman directed questions about Mr. Nungesser’s charge to the Joint Information Command, who said they would investigate the allegation. Nungesser has not yet responded to request for comment.
Issa said the report shows “a clear pattern … of efforts to control and manipulate information about the oil spill and response efforts” by the Obama administration.
Incident Commander Allen contested the findings.
“Every indication I have is that the numbers that are coming up are the numbers that are there. You can always find a place where there’s … a piece of water with no skimmer down there. It’s just that big of an area,” Allen told reporters at the White House.
Gibbs mocked Issa for misspelling Plaquemines in the report. It was spelled correctly in the report twice and misspelled two other times.
“I would say one thing to congressman Issa: Plaquemines is spelled P-l-a-q-u-e-m-i-n-e-s,” Gibbs said.