News of the WeekGulf Oil Spill

Government Chided for Poor Planning and Communication

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Science  15 Oct 2010:
Vol. 330, Issue 6002, pp. 302-303
DOI: 10.1126/science.330.6002.302

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It wasn't long after the drilling platform Deepwater Horizon sank into the Gulf of Mexico that two contentious scientific issues rose to the surface: exactly how much oil was gushing out of the damaged well, and was it wise to inject large volumes of dispersants near the ocean floor to break up the oil gushing from the wellhead, given the potential toxicity of the chemicals and the unprecedented use of dispersants at that depth. Last week, a presidential commission investigating the disaster released two preliminary reports from its staff that fault the government's handling of both issues. Perhaps most damaging to the government's credibility was its initial, low-ball estimate of how much oil per day was gushing from the well. The commission's report on the fate of the oil reveals for the first time the story behind this controversial first estimate—and the public confusion it sowed.