Emails obtained by Greenpeace last Friday have revealed that BP was actively trying to manipulate studies designed to assess the damage from last year’s oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico. In the wake of the disaster, BP created a $500 million fund to study the effects of the oil on the environment, and the emails obtained by Greenpeace show that the company was trying to control which scientists worked on the project, attempting to cherry-pick those who would downplay the effects of the oil.
The Guardian reports:
Russell Putt, a BP environmental expert, wrote in an email to colleagues on 24 June 2010: “Can we ‘direct’ GRI [Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative] funding to a specific study (as we now see the governor’s offices trying to do)? What influence do we have over the vessels/equipment driving the studies vs the questions?”.
The Guardian has the full emails available here. But the new emails are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to BP’s efforts to manipulate science. Last summer, a report by the Mobile Press-Register revealed that BP was offering large sums of cash to any scientist willing to join their camp. The oil giant had been meeting with scientists from universities in the South since the early days of the oil leak, offering to pay $250 an hour to scientists in exchange for their silence on the oil disaster.
The University of South Alabama declined an offer from BP to “purchase” their entire marine sciences department after BP wanted them to sign a confidentiality agreement that would have prevented them from making their research findings public, even if asked by a court.
There were two reasons why purchasing these scientists and manipulating the studies would have been useful for BP: First, it allows them to control the flow of information relating to the oil leak. Second, it would have prevented any scientist or university who accepted money from the company from testifying in court, taking away a valuable resource for plaintiff’s attorneys filing lawsuits against the energy company.
So what was BP so afraid of? The environmental damages of the gusher are still being calculated, many of which have happened far beneath the surface of the Gulf waters, but the impacts on human health are already making themselves known onshore. New reports show that contract cleanup workers for BP are now beginning to show symptoms from their exposure to both the oil and the dispersants used to help congeal the oil. Doctors along the Gulf Coast are reporting numerous instances of patients suffering from a variety of symptoms including racing heartbeats, vomiting, dizziness, ear infections, swollen throats, respiratory infections, and memory loss.
As many as 52,000 workers helped clean up oil in the Gulf of Mexico and along the shore, and scientists say that the studies on their health were woefully inadequate. Their main problem is that the chemical Benzene, a known carcinogen that is present in crude oil, disappears from the body within four months of exposure, leaving only the damage to a person’s body behind. However, health safety studies weren’t conducted until six months after exposure, meaning that workers tested negative for benzene in their bodies.
The oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico is expected to cost BP billions of dollars, and every new piece of information that comes out makes their case harder to defend in a court, making them even more likely to pay large sums before the saga ends. Their efforts to purchase scientists and manipulate data have so far been unsuccessful, but that could change in the years of battles still ahead for the company.