Thursday, October 23rd, 2014

Politics and the Gulf oil spill: separating fact from fiction on the one-year anniversary

A heavily-oiled heron is seen after being rescued from the waters of Louisiana's Barataria Bay, which were laden with oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill.
A heavily-oiled heron is seen after being rescued from the waters of Louisiana's Barataria Bay, which were laden with oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill.

On April 20, 2010, the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded, killing 11 workers, and led to a massive oil spill that resulted in five million barrels of oil spewing into the Gulf of Mexico. The massive environmental catastrophe sparked plenty of political debate, on everything from the safety (and regulation) of deep water drilling in the gulf to the United States' energy dependence on oil. 

Through it all, PolitiFact checked dozens of claims from politicians and pundits related to the Gulf oil spill.

Most recently, we checked Minnesota Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann's claim that "the number of new drilling permits under the Obama administration since they came into office" came to just one. We gave that one our lowest rating, Pants on Fire.

We also checked several recent claims from President Barack Obama including this: "Oil production from federal waters in the Gulf of Mexico reached an all-time high" in 2010. We found that Obama was indeed correct about the record-high levels of Gulf oil production in 2010, but he ignored a downward trend that began in 2010 and that is projected to deepen over at least the next two years. We rated his statement Half True.

We also checked the rosy proclamation last summer from Carol Browner, special adviser to the president for energy and climate change, that "more than three-quarters of the oil is gone." Upon closer inspection, however, we found that a quarter of the oil was described as dispersed. Much of that may have been on its way toward being degraded by natural processes, but we thought it was unfair to call that "gone." In addition, the report carried a bit of uncertainty, as much of it was based not on hard data but estimates calculated with formulas based on prior gulf spills in shallower water. We rated Browner's claim Half True.

Those are just a sampling of the many fact-checks we did related to the Gulf oil spill. For the full list, head to our subject tag on the oil spill.