NOAA Muddies Access to Spill Damage Data

July 14, 2010

Is the Gulf oil spill harming marine life? The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has been prompt in giving BP all the raw data its research ships collect — but slow in giving that data to the public.

That could give BP an enormous advantage when the lawsuits start over natural resources damage resulting from the spill.

Watchdog journalist Dan Froomkin, senior Washington correspondent for the Huffington Post, revealed the data deep-sixing in a July 13, 2010, piece. After he called NOAA on it, NOAA said it would disclose the data publicly, but did not say when.

Froomkin wrote:

"The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is hoarding vast amounts of raw data that independent marine researchers say could help both the public and scientists better understand the extent of the damage being caused by the massive BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

In most cases, NOAA insists on putting the data through a ponderous, many-weeks-long vetting process before making it public.

In other cases, NOAA actually intended to keep the data secret indefinitely. But officials told the Huffington Post on Tuesday that they have now decided to release it — though when remains unclear.

BP, incidentally, gets to see all this data right away."

NOAA seems to be relying partly on a misreading of the so-called "Data Quality Act," a legal loophole set up by industry and the Office of Management and Budget during the Bush administration, to suppress the data.