Where's BP's Blowout Preventer? Justice Department Won't Say

September 8, 2010

It was national news when BP raised the blowout preventer involved in the Deepwater Horizon Gulf oil disaster from the deep sea floor onto the deck of a working rig at the surface. The blowout preventer (BOP) had been the star of live feeds from "spillcams" for months.

The public might have conceded some tentative trust in the federal government's multi-agency probe into the disaster when it learned in an AP story that the BOP recovery was being witnessed not merely by the Coast Guard, but by the FBI and the AP. The AP bragged in its story that its reporter and photographer were the only two news media representatives to see the BOP pulled on deck September 4, 2010.

On September 6, the same AP reporter, Harry R. Weber, asked a Justice Department spokesperson where the BOP was currently located. The DOJ spokesperson, Hannah August, said she could not comment. That mere fact, in itself, was another story.

The FBI's effort to inspire confidence by trying to hide the 300-ton, five-story-high, object of national interest might have backfired. It raised questions not only about the competence of the agency's PR efforts, but that of the apparently political officials supervising what should be an impartial investigation. It is not clear why the FBI and DOJ thought they could hide the BOP, since Adm. Thad Allen had pretty much described its route fully enough that any journalist with a boat and a pair of binoculars could track it. The journey will begin on the deck of the Helix Q4000, which will move it nearer to shore and transfer it to another vessel, which will carry it via the Intracoastal Waterway and the Michoud Canal to NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans East. There, forensic examination will take place, presumably behind closed doors.