Why Is BP Still In Charge of the Spill Site?

| Thu May 20, 2010 6:00 AM EDT

With the Gulf spill now one month in, some lawmakers and environmentalists are starting to question why BP is still in charge of the containment and clean-up effort. The company’s attempts to cut off the spill have failed. The chemicals BP is spreading in the Gulf might be creating entirely new problems. And independent estimates of the spill indicate that the company is grossly underestimating the size of the disaster.

So why is BP still running the show? The government has launched an unprecedented response. But when it comes to crucial issues of control and decision-making, it seems like the oil giant is still in the driver's seat.

Let's start with the size of the spill. Outside estimates have put the volume as high as 4 million gallons of oil per day, based on analysis of video that BP finally released in the past week. Video released Tuesday only added to those concerns. But BP has only been releasing a limited amount of footage, at the demand of Congress. (BP American president Lamar McKay told a House panel on Wednesday that the higher number is "theoretically possible," but said he doesn't "think anyone who's been working on this thinks it's that high.") The Coast Guard and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, meanwhile, are still using the 5,000-barrel-per-day figure.

Rep. Ed Markey, chair of the House Select Committee for Energy Independence and Global Warming, has called on the Coast Guard to force BP to relinquish control over the spill site. Markey has also pushed BP to post a live-streaming video of the spill that outside experts and the public can view, which the company consented to Wednesday evening.

"BP thinks this is their ocean, so they should be able to control the information," Markey said during a congressional briefing on the spill. "It's BP’s spill, but it’s America's ocean."

Get Mother Jones by Email - Free. Like what you're reading? Get the best of MoJo three times a week.