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NOAA Head: Oil Spill Commission Report Is ‘Misleading’

Jane Lubchenco, head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, sent a letter to the national oil spill commission yesterday to “set the record straight” on an assertion in one of the commission’s draft reports released this week that has gotten quite a bit of attention.

The draft staff report said that the White House Office of Management and Budget denied a request by NOAA scientists to make public data about the worst-case flow-rate scenarios from the Gulf oil spill. Lubchenco, in her letter, said the commission “mischaracterized” what transpired.

Lubchenco said worst-case scenario modeling has “nothing to do” with calculating the flow rate and argues that the commission report confused the terminology:

NOAA’s modeling of long-term movement of oil using worst-case scenario analyses was completely independent of the efforts to estimate flow-rate. They are different. ‘Worst-case scenario’ modeling was designed to evaluate where oil may go over time and is not the same as ‘worst-case discharge.’

The letter also dismisses claims that low early flow-rate data could have impacted the federal response.

But the letter appears to suggest that OMB did in fact delay the release of the report, even if it didn’t deny the request by NOAA to release the information. “Due to the complexity of models, the challenges of accurately but clearly communicating to non-technical audiences what they said, and the dynamic nature of the event coupled with the desire to have the product be as current as possible, the work took some time,” the letter says.

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