Our impact? Dispersants, spillcam & barrel counts

Back on May 19, we anticipated the public would demand more information from government agencies about the oil spill, so agencies should head off those FOIA requests and post material proactively. We went on to discuss three problems: The lack of information about the dispersant used, video of the spill site itself (the “spillcam”), and spill monitoring information.  To monitor the spill, the public focused on the size and locations of the plumes in the water and the rate that oil is gushing from the break in the well.

The next day, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), longtime champion of open government, called on agencies to disclose more about the oil dispersant, Corexit, and ensure the often mesmerizing spillcam was kept on.

From his press release:

‘I write to urge you to take immediate steps to increase public access to government information pertaining to the ongoing environmental crisis in the Gulf of Mexico,’ wrote Leahy.  ‘Specifically, I request the immediate public release of all monitoring data related to the BP PLC oil spill, including the video of the source of the oil leak, and data related to the safety and effectiveness of the dispersant used to clean-up the leaking oil.’

Leahy also urged the President to ensure that federal agencies fully comply with the disclosure requirements of the Electronic Freedom of Information Act of 1996.  The Leahy-authored bill requires federal agencies to publicly disclose records released pursuant to FOIA, when those records are likely to be the subject of future requests.

The same day, the AP reported the White House called for greater transparency in the oil spill.

The White House is asking BP PLC to publicly disclose more information about the Gulf oil spill including measurements of the size of the leak 5,000 feet under the sea and air quality.White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said Thursday that the White House is writing to BP asking the company to put that information on its website and be more transparent about its response.

Today, a month later, here’s an update:

  • Clearly the oil is still gushing from the well in amounts stil unclear.  (Progress is being made to divert the oil from Gulf waters while waiting for relief wells to break the flow.)  Now best estimates are that the flow is 35,000 to 60,000 barrels a day.  At the time Senator Leahy wrote his letter, BP’s flow estimate was around 5,000 barrels a day.
  • Details of the ingredients in the dispersant have been disclosed.  The Environmental Protection Agency took care of this in early June.   For the record, here’s the answer, from EPA:

What are the chemical components of the dispersants COREXIT 9500 and COREXIT 9527?

The components of COREXIT 9500 and 9527 are:
CAS Registry Number Chemical Name
Ethanol, 2-butoxy-*
Butanedioic acid, 2-sulfo-, 1,4-bis(2-ethylhexyl) ester, sodium salt (1:1)
Sorbitan, mono-(9Z)-9-octadecenoate
Sorbitan, mono-(9Z)-9-octadecenoate, poly(oxy-1,2-ethanediyl) derivs.
Sorbitan, tri-(9Z)-9-octadecenoate, poly(oxy-1,2-ethanediyl) derivs
2-Propanol, 1-(2-butoxy-1-methylethoxy)-
Distillates (petroleum), hydrotreated light
*Note: This chemical component (Ethanol, 2-butoxy-) is not included in the composition of COREXIT 9500.
Learn more about CAS Registry Numbers from the American Chemical Society

Any press who encounter response personnel restricting their access or violating the media access policy of the National Incident Commander should contact the Joint Information Center at: 985-493-7835/houma.jic [at] gmail.com and provide their name, contact information, a description of the incident, the name and agency/company of the person denying access, the reason given for denial of access, and any efforts made by the reporter or the person to allow safe access that did not work. This will allow the unified command to follow up and take corrective action as required.

Update 6/24/2010:  Days after EPA posted the dispersant ingredients, the manufacturer of Corexit, NALCO, posted the ingredients on its website. Financial Times reported this on June 10, 2010.

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