Predictable, from a moderate Republican President who hates to impede the "functioning of free markets," but still completely inexcusable:
A month after a surge of gas from the undersea well engulfed the Deepwater Horizon offshore drilling rig in flames and triggered the massive leak that now threatens sea life, fisheries and tourist centers in five Gulf coast states, neither BP nor the federal government has tried to measure at the source the amount of crude pouring into the water.
BP and the Obama administration have said they don't want to take the measurements for fear of interfering with efforts to stop the leaks.
That decision, however, runs counter to BP's own regional plan for dealing with offshore leaks. "In the event of a significant release of oil," the 583-page plan says on Page 2, "an accurate estimation of the spill's total volume . . . is essential in providing preliminary data to plan and initiate cleanup operations."
Legal experts said that not having a credible official estimate of the leak's size provides another benefit for BP: The amount of oil spilled is certain to be key evidence in the court battles that are likely to result from the disaster. The size of the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska, for example, was a significant factor that the jury considered when it assessed damages against Exxon.
"If they put off measuring, then it's going to be a battle of dueling experts after the fact trying to extrapolate how much spilled after it has all sunk or has been carried away," said Lloyd Benton Miller, one of the lead plaintiffs' lawyers in the Exxon Valdez spill litigation. "The ability to measure how much oil was released will be impossible."
"It's always a bottom-line issue," said Marilyn Heiman, a former Clinton administration Interior Department official who now heads the Arctic Program for the Pew Environment Group. "Any company wouldn't have an interest in having this kind of measurement if they can help it."
The size of the spill has become a high stakes political controversy that's put the Obama administration and the oil company on the defensive. In congressional testimony Wednesday, an engineering professor from Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., said that based on videos released Tuesday he estimated that the well was spewing at 95,000 barrels of oil, or 4 million gallons a day into the gulf.
If it's not a dozen times bigger than the Exxon Valdez already, just wait a couple days. Pretty goddamn clear who owns whom.