BP to Reporters: Please Leave (Again)

After an underwater robot knocked a cap that was collecting the spilling oil on Wednesday, oil began leaking into the Gulf at an increasing rate.

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by Matthew L. Schafer

After sixty four days  and over 162 thousand gallons of oil flooding the gulf, there appears to be no end in sight for the BP oil spill.  On Wednesday, more bad news came as an underwater robot dented a cap that was siphoning approximately 16,000 barrels of oil a day off the leaking pipe.  BP was forced to remove the cap because of safety concerns.

In a press release, BP said, “[Because of the dent] capture of oil and gas through the… cap is therefore temporarily suspended until such time that the cap can be re-installed.”

While oil continues to rush into the Gulf, month old questions of press access to the spill remain unanswered.  On May 18, the first reports of BP denying access to oiled beaches were released.  In one instance, a U.S. Coast Guard employee offered a now famous line, “It’s BP’s rule, not ours”

In response to mounting concerns, BP released a statement on May 21, in which CEO Tony Hayward said, “We are committed to providing the American people with the information they need to understand the environmental impact from the spill and the response steps that have been taken.”

Despite the statement from BP, a New Orleans newspaper reporter from the Times-Picayune, was told that the planned flight over the oil spill would not happen.  BP cited the no-fly order issued by the FAA.  This event set off a firestorm of criticism through the mainstream media, and caused Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen to release a statement on May 31 declaring that the “media shall, at all times, be allowed access to response operations and shall only be asked to leave an area when their presence is in violation of an existing law.”

Adm. Allen released this letter on May 31, 2010 in response to growing press criticism.

Claims of BP stymying the press, now more than a month old, have lost their novelty with the press, but continue to occur on a regular basis.  On June 11, a reporter from local New Orleans television station WDSU, was prevented from interviewing BP clean up employees.  This occurred two days after a June 9 letter letter from BP COO Doug Suttles which said, in part, “BP fully supports and defends all individuals’ rights to share their personal thoughts and experiences with journalists if they so choose.
In an interview with Youtube users, Robert Gibbs was asked “Why is BP restricting media access to the Deepwater Horizon site?”  ”We do understand that oil is an exceedingly toxic and hazardous substance,” Gibbs said. “So there are some safety zones incorporated into this.”

Press access to disasters is vital to informing both the public and officials.  Yet, if this BP continues to prevent fair access, in collusion with the government, neither the media nor the public will be able to share as much relevant and important information as they deem necessary with their audiences and friends.  It should not be up to BP to decide whether information is relevant or important, nor should the government be complicit in the effort.  The amazing thing about new media and the Internet, however, is that in spite of what appears to be BPs best efforts to prevent press access information is still leaking out–maybe even faster than the oil is.


UPDATE (8:44am, 6/24/10):

In a press release, BP said the containment cap that was damaged by an underwater robot had been reinstalled at 7:30 EST on 6/23/10.