Federal officials and the oil giant BP effectively conspired to keep the worst images of the oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico from the public, according to a report Thursday.
The US Coast Guard, which is coordinating response efforts to the spill on behalf of the government, had hours of video showing the extent of the spill within nine days after the spill began. But by that point, they'd released only a single fuzzy still image.
"But inside the unified command center, where BP and federal agencies were orchestrating the spill response, video monitors had already displayed hours of footage they did not make public," ABC News' veteran investigative reporter Brian Ross reports. "The images showed a far more dire situation unfolding underwater. The footage filmed by submarines showed three separate leaks, including one that was unleashing a torrent of oil into the Gulf."
BP told the network they'd turned the video over to the Feds, and the decision to release the video was on the Feds alone.
"The video has been available to the unified command from the very beginning," BP spokesman Mark Proegle was quoted as saying. "It's always been here from the beginning. They had it."
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Coast Guard officials contested BP's assertion, saying the oil firm had claimed the video of the spill was "proprietary."
Still, Federal officials made statements that suggested the spill was smaller than it was, even though they had devastating video of the leak.
"I would caution you not to get fixated on an estimate of how much is out there," the top Coast Guard Admiral said of the spill.
"This fixation on the number of barrels is a little bit misleading," said Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano remarked.
BP and federal officials have also faced accusations that they've tried to keep reporters from covering the extent of the spill.
On Saturday, AP reported:
Media organizations say they are being allowed only limited access to areas impacted by the Gulf oil spill through restrictions on plane and boat traffic that are making it difficult to document the worst spill in U.S. history.
The Associated Press, CBS and others have reported coverage problems because of the restrictions, which officials say are needed to protect wildlife and ensure safe air traffic.
Ted Jackson, a photographer for The Times-Picayune newspaper in New Orleans, said Saturday that access to the spill "is slowly being strangled off."...
Coast Guard officials also said there was no intent to conceal the scope of the disaster. Rather, they said, the spill's complexity had made it difficult to allow the open access sought by the media.
Coast Guard Lt. Commander Rob Wyman said personnel involved in [a] CBS dispute said no one was threatened with arrest. "If we see anybody impeding operations, we're going to ask you to move. We're going to ask you to back up and move away," he said.
On May 24, BP's CEO, Tony Hayward, was caught on tape ordering reporters off a beach that had been affected.
BP's CEO appeared to motion toward a cameraman who was standing next to a large puddle of toxic sludge. Pointing at the man, he said sternly: "Hey! Get outta there. Get outta there!"
After an inaudible exchange with nearby subordinates, the CEO then gestured toward other reporters and said softly, "Get 'em out. Get 'em out. Get 'em out." He was wearing a wireless mic.
Having given the order, Hayward began walking to the site of a planned press conference some "hundreds of yards away," according to one report, drawing the camera crews along with him.
Covering the scene live was CNN's Rick Sanchez, who appeared aghast at the comments.
"There have been some questions as to whether BP has been transparent enough and allowed media to go in and take pictures that they probably don't want you to see," the anchor said. "Um, but, you and I both heard the 'Get 'em outta there,' not on one occasion but it seemed like two occasions."