Wednesday, October 22nd, 2014

Fact-checking the oil spill

Workers clean the beach at Grand Isle, La., on June 16, 2010.
Workers clean the beach at Grand Isle, La., on June 16, 2010.

Friday marked the 60th day since the Deepwater Horizon rig began hemorrhaging oil into the Gulf of Mexico, and the topic took up much of our fact-checking efforts this week.

Here's a summary of our latest fact-checks on statements made about the oil spill. You can read all of our fact-checks on the Gulf of Mexico oil spill on our oil spill page.

• In a speech to the country, President Barack Obama said regulation of oil companies has been troubled for years. "Oil companies showered regulators (at the Minerals Management Service) with gifts and favors, and were essentially allowed to conduct their own safety inspections and write their own regulations," Obama said. We looked into the history at the Minerals Management Service and rated his statement Mostly True.

• Also in that speech, Obama said, "Already, I've issued a six-month moratorium on deepwater drilling." We rated this Half True, because the moratorium is only on new drilling. Deepwater production of oil continues on rigs that have finished creating their wells.

• Despite the spill, some political leaders and others think the U.S. needs to continue drilling to lessen our dependence on foreign oil. Eric Johnson, a candidate for governor in Georgia, supports that view. "Predictably, liberal activists call the Gulf disaster a warning of things to come if we expand drilling, but this incident is an unfortunate exception to the rule," he wrote on his blog. "The last major oil spill from a drilling accident in America happened over 40 years ago in 1969." We looked into previous oil spills, and found that there have been several major spills since 1969. We rated his statement False.

• One of the criticisms of the clean-up effort is that the United States has rejected help from other countries. George Lemieux, a U.S. Senator from Florida, said that the U.S. has "refused" international help. We found that the government has accepted some offers of help and is still evaluating other offers. It has rejected a few offers that did not meet U.S. specifications. So we rated his statement Barely True.

• How much oil companies pay for oil leases was another hot topic of the week. Rep. Edward Markey of Massachusetts said that oil companies aren't paying what they should to drill in the Gulf of Mexico. "Right now every single one of the (oil) companies here today and dozens of others are drilling for free in the Gulf of Mexico on leases that will cost American taxpayers more than $50 billion in lost royalties," Markey said. We found that Markey has a point about some foregone royalties, but the U.S. government receives millions from the oil companies nonetheless. We rated his statement Half True.

• Finally, members of Congress looked at the plans all the major oil companies have to clean up a spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Rep. Bart Stupak of Michigan said he thought the plans lacked specificity. But he reserved particular criticism for Exxon Mobil's plan, which includes many pages of instructions for how company officials should handle the media. "While Exxon Mobil has 40 pages on its media response strategy, its plan for resource protection is only five pages long and its plan for oil removal is just nine pages long," Stupak said. We looked at the report and found a few things to qualify his statement. Still, we rated it Mostly True.