Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Doing the Math

"Q: How many oilmen does it take to measure a spill?"
A: However many BP feels like using. BP decides, the press transcribes."
Over the last month we've been amazed repeatedly at the naivete of the mainstream press when it comes to BP's claims about the size of the oil leak and the amounts of rogue oil supposedly "captured" by one after another of the corporation's unsuccessful remedial efforts. The gullibility of journalists is becoming legendary; they'll swallow anything BP says.

When did journalism schools stop requiring students to take a basic math course or two before collecting a degree proving they can report the news?
  • On April 25, Cain Burdeau of the Associated Press dutifully transcribed the claim of unnamed BP "officials" that the Deepwater Horizon well "is spewing as much as 1,000 barrels -- or 42,000 gallons -- of oil each day."

  • One week later, the same Associated Press reporter quoted "government officials" saying the leak was "five times" worse than "originally estimated -- about 5,000 barrels a day." He also dutifully transcribed BP's disagreement, along with the corporation's claim that there is "no way to measure the flow at the seabed."

  • Hilariously, once the government questioned the driller's estimate, BP spokesman Mark Proegler admitted there was more than the thousand barrels he had claimed earlier. "Now that we are collecting 5,000 barrels a day, it might be a little more than that."

  • Within a day or two, BP finally "backed down" and admitted it wasn't collecting 5,000 gallons. But it still low-balled the estimate as more like 2,000 a day.

  • By the end of May, as CNN reported, an "updated estimate issued... by a government-led team put the leak at 12,000-19,000 barrels (504,000 to 798,000 gallons) a day, more than double the initial figure." "More than double?" Not unless you ignore the fact that BP's "initial figure" was 1,000 barrels. In which case, the math is easy: it works out to 12 to 19 times the initial figure.

  • This week, BP execs are telling us the latest "cap" repair is so successful that the company "collected 14,800 barrels on Monday from a leaking deepwater well in the Gulf of Mexico... ."[emphasis added]

  • But can that be so? Reuters News seemingly accepts BP's word for it:
    About 1,000 barrels a day of oil was flowing to the drillship as of early Friday. In subsequent days, the amount rose to 10,500, then 11,100 and reached 14,800 as of midnight on Monday.
    "That brings the cumulative total of oil collected to 42,500 barrels," Reuters sums up.
But does it? Really? Give us one reason to trust BP's "estimates" on anything.

Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal's James Herron, who likely has experience with corporate lies told every day on Wall Street, has caught on to BP's game. "How many oilmen does it take to measure a spill?" he jokes.

Our answer: 'However many BP feels like using. BP decides, the press transcribes.'

All journalism is not brain dead. New York Times reporters Justin Gillis and Henry Fountain play the part of the boy who noticed the emperor had no clothes:
The immense undersea gusher of oil and gas, seen on live video feed, looks as big as it did last week, or bigger, before the company sliced through the pipe known as a riser to install its new collection device.

At least one expert, Ira Leifer, who is part of a government team charged with estimating the flow rate, is convinced that the operation has made the leak worse, perhaps far worse than the 20 percent increase that government officials warned might occur when the riser was cut.
As Sierra Club director Michael Brune says:
"We'd like independent confirmation. BP hasn't been the most trusted source when it comes to accurate information."
"We’re adapting to an enemy that changes," Adm. Thad Allen said yesterday. No, Admiral. You're being suckered by an enemy who changes his story every other day.

Prof. Steve Wereley, another member of the government's Flow Rate Technical Group, has a novel suggestion. Math-disadvantaged journalists might want to pay attention:

"What I would say to BP is, show the American public the before and after shots of the evidence on which they’re basing that claim," Werely told msnbc.com on Tuesday.

Demand evidence? How novel! Where are the journalists who will wait for proof before publishing fluff from a recidivist lying corporation?

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