I was on the phone this afternoon with a friend at what I’ll describe as a highly respected national-type newspaper, and we almost simultaneously broke into complaint about the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
What set us off was NOAA’s grudging admission of the day, that despite angry earlier denials, there were indeed swathes of oil-saturated water coiling for miles, under the surface of the Gulf, emanating away from the site of the BP pipe break.
As The New York Times noted: “the tests confirmed that some toxic compounds that would normally be expected to evaporate from the surface in a shallow-water oil spill were instead spreading through the ocean in the Deepwater Horizon leak.”
I did not experience instant gratification when reading this. Irritation better describes it. Total exasperation on my part. Reputable scientists had first reported on such underwater pollutants starting three weeks ago and NOAA’s response had been to get pissy about it, giving a rather bizarre impression of siding with BP, whose CEO had flatly denied that there was any underwater spread at all. Plenty of people had warned about the potential for BP’s use of chemical dispersants to drive toxic oil beneath the surface; geez, even I was talking about dispersant risks a good two weeks ago.
My friend was further annoyed by a media advisory from NOAA directing reporters to avoid using the word “plume”, which the agency described as inaccurate (read: inflammatory). Journalists don’t handle these dictates well: “They’re trying to control every word we write.”
So a moment to vent here: I’m disappointed in NOAA, which should be leading the way rather than footdragging along. It is an agency that houses some outstandingly good scientists and has history of doing excellent and independent work. I’m disappointed in NOAA head Jane Lubchenco, who until – well, until this oil spill – had a reputation for being a straightforward communicator. And I dislike, hate, really, the way such weaseling around makes our government appear afraid of offending the oil industry.
And since this is my blog, and I get the last word: PLUME, PLUME, PLUME.