OMB denies report it may have suppressed data during BP spill

The White House is pushing back against a report that it blocked public release of worst-case projections during the early days of the BP oil spill.

The White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB), in a statement Wednesday, said, “senior government officials were clear with the public what the worst-case flow rate could be.”

“In early May, [Interior] Secretary Salazar and Admiral Thad Allen told the American people that the worst case scenario could be more than 100,000 barrels a day,” notes the joint comment from OMB and Jane Lubchenco, who heads the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

The comment comes hours after the presidential commission probing the spill released a draft working paper that said OMB might have blocked NOAA efforts to release worst-case projections of how much oil could flow from BP's ruptured well.

“The Commission staff has also been advised that, in late April or early May 2010, [the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration] wanted to make public some of its long-term, worst-case discharge models for the Deepwater Horizon spill, and requested approval to do so from the White House’s Office of Management and Budget. Staff was told that the Office of Management and Budget denied NOAA's request,” notes the paper written by staff for the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling.

The OMB statement cites news articles and interviews from early May in which federal officials raised the prospect that 100,000 barrels per day could flow from the well under a worst-case scenario. For instance, Salazar and retired Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen, who was the national incident commander, cited the 100,000 barrel-per-day possibility in a May 2 CNN interview.

In the initial days after the accident, federal officials and BP initially provided estimates that 1,000 barrels per day were flowing from BP’s blown out well but soon revised the estimate to 5,000 barrels per day.

But those initial figures soon came under attack from outside scientists, and a federal task force with outside experts that convened in mid-May — called the Flow Rate Technical Group — offered a series of escalating estimates in subsequent months.

In August, the federal team said 62,000 barrels per day were escaping from the well at the beginning of the spill, falling to 53,000 by the time the well was finally capped in mid-July.

This post was updated at 5:33 p.m.