Top Kill Operation Succeeds in Killing Much of BP's Credibility

June 2, 2010

While the world waited breathlessly for news of the "top kill" operation it hoped would stop the Gulf oil spill, US EPA was withholding information and delaying its release — with Coast Guard officials standing beside BP spokespeople.

Twice during the five-day operation BP cut off the mud pumps for long periods without letting the public know until later and without much explanation. Both Coast Guard and BP officials in the meantime made statements that left the impression the operation was ongoing.

The public eventually found out. BP announced that the operation had not worked.

But Coast Guard officials no longer stand beside BP at press briefings. They hold their own.

It was only the latest in a string of incidents that have damaged BP's credibility.

BP had originally announced that it would turn off the live underwater "spill-cam" during the top kill operation. Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) protested and, during a hearing, extracted a promise from BP that it would continue the spill-cam feed live during the operation. Still, the spill-cam was subject to strange interruptions, and was managed so that almost nobody noticed the pumping interruptions until BP acknowledged them.

Many critics accused BP of delaying live spill-cam feeds earlier in the five-week catastrophe in order to hide the size of the spill. BP's financial liability depends partly on the amount of oil going into the Gulf. BP originally estimated the rate of flow from the well as low as 1,000 barrels per day; a later estimate by experts from US Geological Survey and other agencies, based on analysis of spill-cam images, put it as high as 25,000 barrels per day.