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February 26 2017

July 03 2015

BP hit with record $18.7 billion fine over Deepwater Horizon Gulf oil spill

BP has been hit with a record fine of $18.7 billion (£12 billion) from the US government and five US states five years after the catastrophic Deepwater Horizon oil spill off the Gulf Coast.

The settlement is being described as the largest ever environmental fine.

BP has faced a deluge of legal claims since the April 2010 catastrophe, in which 11 workers were killed.

Caused by an explosion, the spill saw around 5 million barrels ofoil leak into the sea in the Gulf of Mexico, making it the worst such event to ever take place in US waters.

The US Justice Department said the payment could be the largest settlement with a single entity in American history and the total value would top $18.7 billion.

BP said the agreement covered claims from the states Of Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas and 400 local government entities.

BP still faces a maximum fine of $13.7 billion under the Clean Water Act for its Gulf of Mexico oil spill, after a judge ruled that it was smaller than the US government claimed.

BP shares extended earlier gains following the announcement and were last up 19.55p or 4.7% at 438.7p.

May 06 2015

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The Gulf Oil Spill Disintegrated This Island

February 04 2015

Where did the missing BP oil go? The Gulf of Mexico floor

After 200 million gallons of crude oil spilled into the Gulf of Mexico in April 2010, the government and BP cleanup crews mysteriously had trouble locating all of it.

Now, a new study led by Florida State University Professor of Oceanography Jeff Chanton finds that some 6 million to 10 million gallons are buried in the sediment on the Gulf floor, about 62 miles southeast of the Mississippi Delta.

"This is going to affect the Gulf for years to come," Chanton said. "Fish will likely ingest contaminants because worms ingest the sediment, and fish eat the worms. It's a conduit for contamination into the food web."

The article, published in the latest edition of the journal Environmental Science & Technology, details how oil caused particles in the Gulf to clump together and sink to the ocean floor.

The researchers used carbon 14, a radioactive isotope as an inverse tracer to determine where oil might have settled on the floor. Oil does not have carbon 14, so sediment that contained oil would immediately stand out.

Chanton then collaborated with Tingting Zhao, associate professor of geography at Florida State, to use geographic information system mapping to create a map of the oiled sediment distribution on the sea floor.

Chanton said in the short term, the oil sinking to the sea floor might have seemed like a good thing becausethe water was clarified, and the oil was removed from the water. But, in the long term, it's a problem, he said.

Less oxygen exists on the sea floor relative to the water column, so the oiled particles are more likely to become hypoxic, meaning they experience less oxygen. Once that happens, it becomes much more difficult for bacteria to attack the oil and cause it to decompose, Chanton said.

Chanton's research is supported by the Florida State University-headquartered Deep-C Consortium as well as the Ecogig consortium, centered at the University of Mississippi. The work was funded by the Gulf of Mexico Research Institute created to allocate the money made available to support scientific research by BP.

His previous research examined how methane-derived carbon from the oil spill entered the food web.

In addition to Chanton and Zhao, the other authors are Samantha Bosman of Florida State, Brad E. Rosenheim and David Hollander from University of South Florida and Samantha Joye from University of Georgia. Charlotte Brunner, Kevin Yeager and Arne Diercks of University of Southern Mississippi also contributed.

'Missing Oil' from 2010 BP Spill Found on Gulf Seafloor

p to 10 million gallons (38 million liters) of crude oil from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill has settled at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico, where it is threatening wildlife and marine ecosystems, according to a new study.

The finding helps solve the mystery of where the "missing" oil from the spill landed. Its location had eluded both the U.S. government and BP cleanup crews after the April 2010 disaster that caused about 200 million gallons (757 million liters) of crude oil to leak into the Gulf.

"This is going to affect the Gulf for years to come," Jeff Chanton, the study's lead researcher and a professor of chemical oceanography at Florida State University, said in a statement. "Fish will likely ingest contaminants because worms ingest the sediment, and fish eat the worms. It's a conduit for contamination into the food web." 

The researchers took 62 sediment cores from an area encompassing 9,266 square miles (24,000 square kilometers) around the site of the Deepwater Horizon spill. Unlike other sediment on the ocean floor, oil does not contain any carbon-14, a radioactive isotope. Therefore, sediment samples without carbon-14 indicate that oil is present, Chanton said.

The scientists avoided areas with natural oil seeps, features in which oil slowly leaks onto the ocean floor through a series of cracks. In these areas, the sediment cores would have a lack of carbon-14 throughout the sample. In areas that don't normally have oil, "the oil is just in the surficial layer, like in that 0 to 1 centimeter [0 to 0.39 inches]" interval," Chanton told Live Science.

After studying the samples, the researchers made a map of the areas affected by the spill. About 3,243 square miles (8,400 square km) are covered with oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill, they found.

Deepwater horizon oil spill An oil slick from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
Credit: Jeff Chanton View full size image

It's unclear exactly how the oil got there after the spill. One idea is that the oil particles clumped together at the water's surface, or in plumes from the underwater leak, and became heavy enough to sink to the bottom of the Gulf. Cleanup crews also burned large patches of oil, and the resulting black carbon and ash could have sunk into the water, the researchers said. Or, zooplankton (tiny animals that drift near the water's surface) may have ingested the oil and discarded it in fecal pellets that sank to the Gulf floor, the researchers added.

For now, the sunken oil may help keep the water above it clear and free of black oil particles, Chanton said, but it's turning into a long-term problem.

"There's less oxygen down there, and so that will slow the decomposition rate of the oil," Chanton said. "It might be there for a long period of time, a little reservoir of contamination." Moreover, the oil may cause tumors and lesions on underwater animals, research suggests.

The new study supports the findings of another independent study, which found that about 10 percent of the spill's oil made it to the Gulf floor. Using hopane, a hydrocarbon found in oil, the researchers of that study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in October 2014, analyzed sediment samples to see how much oil had fallen to the bottom of the Gulf.

The new study calculates that 3 to 5 percent of the oil from the spill sank to the ocean floor, but the results of the two studies aren't that different, Chanton said.

"Our number is a little bit more conservative than theirs," he said, but "if the two approaches agree within a factor of two, that's pretty good for estimating all of the oil on the seafloor."

The findings were published Jan. 20 in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.

November 22 2014

"Deepwater Horizon": Was wurde eigentlich aus dem Chef des Ölpest-Konzerns?

Er war das Gesicht der schlimmsten Ölpest der Welt: Die Explosion der Bohrinsel "Deepwater Horizon" im Golf von Mexiko kostete BP-Chef Tony Hayward den Job. Heute verdient er wieder Millionen - als gefragter Ölexperte.

Tony Hayward war immer schon ein Meister des Fettnapfes. Die Krönung jedoch kam im Mai 2010: Da reiste der Vorstandschef des Ölmultis BP nach Louisiana, um die Folgen der "Deepwater Horizon"-Katastrophe zu inspizieren. Die BP-Bohrinsel war sechs Wochen vorher explodiert, seither strömten Millionen Barrel Öl in den Golf von Mexiko. Es war diegrößte Ölpest der Weltdas schlimmste Umweltdesaster der US-Geschichte.
Der Brite Hayward stand unter Druck, sein obligatorisches Bedauern zu vermitteln. Elf Ölarbeiter waren umgekommen, dieWirtschaftsgrundlage der US-Golfstaaten war bedroht, zum zweiten Mal seit dem Hurrikan "Katrina" fünf Jahre zuvor.

"Es tut uns leid, dass das ihr Leben so massiv unterbrochen hat", sprach Hayward also an einem ölverpesteten Strand in Louisiana in die Kamera. "Niemand will mehr als ich, dass diese Sache vorbei ist. Ich hätte gerne mein Leben zurück."

Er wolle sein Leben zurück?

Damit besiegelte Hayward, der damals mehr als eine Million Dollar im Jahr verdiente, sein Schicksal als Gesicht der Katastrophe. Mit seinem Selbstmitleid hatte er den Zynismus einer ganzen Industrie offenbart. Drei Monate später war er seinen Job los.

Der Ölfilm, der auf bis zu 75.000 Quadratkilometer anschwoll, brachte ein ganzes Ökosystem ins Wanken, tötete Zehntausende Tiere, verseuchte Strände, zerstörte Korallenriffe, raubte Fischern den Lebensunterhalt, zerstörte eine Saison lang das Tourismusgeschäft in fünf US-Bundesstaaten. Bis heute soll gut ein Drittel des ausgelaufenen Öls unter der Wasseroberfläche herumschwimmen.

BP zahlte eine Strafe von 4,5 Milliarden Dollar, dazu 43 Milliarden Dollar Schadensersatz, Säuberungsaufwand und Gerichtskosten, weitere 18 Milliarden Dollar könnten folgen. Der Jahresgewinn von BP aber ist mit zuletzt 25 Milliarden Dollar inzwischen wieder so hoch wie vor der Katastrophe.

Auch Hayward fiel auf die Füße, trotz all seiner Fehltritte während der Ölpest. Von BP bekam er 1,5 Millionen Dollar Abfindung zugeschustert - und eine Pension von 17 Millionen Dollar. Er ging bergsteigen und skilaufen, doch der Zwangsruhestand hielt nicht lange.

Tony hayward (während der ölpest im mai 2010): auf die füße gefallenZur großansicht AP

Tony Hayward (während der Ölpest im Mai 2010): Auf die Füße gefallen

2011 kehrte Hayward ins Ölgeschäft zurück. Gemeinsam mit dem türkischen Milliardär Mehmet Sepil - der 2010 in Großbritannien wegen Insiderhandels bestraft wurde - und befreundeten Investoren gründete er die Firma Genel Energy, um im kurdischen Norden des Iraks Öl zu fördern.

Dieses Abenteuer wurde zuletzt zwar vom Durchmarsch der Terrormiliz "Islamischer Staat" (IS) gestört. Doch Hayward stört das wenig: Genel habe im Irak eine "großartige Zukunft", versicherte er der "Financial Times" - deren Reporter wiederum staunte, wie "relaxt, gebräunt und verjüngt" der 57-Jährige aussehe.

In der Tat steigt Genels Aktienkurs seit seinem Jahrestief von Mitte Oktober derzeit wieder. Haywards Rehabilitation ist in vollem Gang - zumindest in seiner alten Branche. "Die Leute wissen, dass er ein Sündenbock war, das Opferlamm", sagt Fadel Gheit, ein Ölanalyst beim US-Investmenthaus Oppenheimer.

Seit 2013 hat Hayward noch einen zweiten Job, als Chairman des Schweizer Rohstoffriesen Glencore - für ein Salär von abermals mehr als einer Million Dollar. Déjà-vu: Dieser Konzern gibt seine Umweltsünden sogar offen zu, darunter Trinkwasserverseuchung und das Ablassen von Giftstaubwolken. Hayward sitzt bei Glencore auch im Umwelt- und Gesundheitsausschuss.

Nebenher verdient er sich als Experte und Berater etwas hinzu, etwa bei der US-Finanzfirma AEA Investors und der Londoner Investmentbank Numis Securities. "Meine Karriere sollte nicht von einem tragischen Ereignis definiert werden", sagte Hayward, als ihm die schottische Robert Gordon University im Juli vorigen Jahres einen Ehrendoktor verlieh - für seine "enormen Beiträge um die Öl- und Gasindustrie".

Doch nicht alle sehen das so. Eine Rede Haywards vor der Birmingham University lief weniger glatt: Mehrere Protestler störten seinen Auftritt lautstark, bevor sie von Sicherheitsbeamten abgeführt wurden.

Und Haywards Gattin Maureen, die ihn während der "Deepwater Horizon"-Krise noch vehement verteidigt hatte, reichte im Dezember 2012 die Scheidung ein, nach 27 Jahren Ehe - wegen "unzumutbaren Verhaltens". Ihr Scheidungsantrag wurde innerhalb von 50 Sekunden genehmigt.

September 25 2014

9058 6bf6 500
Reposted fromverschwoerer verschwoerer

September 08 2014

Profit over Safety: BP Faces Billions in Fines for "Grossly Negligent" Role in 2010 Gulf Oil Spill


A federal judge has ruled that BP was "grossly negligent" and "reckless" in the lead-up to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion that killed 11 workers and caused more than 200 million gallons of oil to flood into the Gulf of Mexico. BP could face up to $18 billion in extra fines following the ruling. The ruling also found BP subcontractors Transocean and Halliburton "negligent" in the accident. BP says it will immediately appeal. In a statement on its website, BP wrote: "BP strongly disagrees with the decision? … The law is clear that proving gross negligence is a very high bar that was not met in this case. BP believes that an impartial view of the record does not support the erroneous conclusion reached by the District Court." We discuss the court ruling with Antonia Juhasz, an oil and energy analyst who has reported on the Gulf oil spill from its outset. She is the author of "Black Tide: The Devastating Impact of the Gulf Oil Spill."

September 06 2014

Ölpest im Golf von Mexiko: BP droht 18 Milliarden-Dollar-Strafe

"Rücksichtsloses, profitorientiertes, grob fahrlässiges Verhalten" - ein US-Richter entscheidet, dass BP die Hauptverantwortung für die Katastrophe trägt

Für diejenigen, die sich für säuberlich abgrenzte Unterscheidungen interessieren, welche die juristische Sprache trifft, etwa wenn es darum geht, ob eine Bohrinsel als Schiff zu verstehen ist, und für ein detailliertes Aufzeigen technischer Abläufe beim Ölbohren weit draußen vor der Küste, ist die 153seitige Entscheidung des New Yorker Richters Carl J. Barbier vom U.S. District Court ein profunder, detektivischer Lesestoff. Für die Öffentlichkeit zählt der Schluss, der sich für Barbier daraus ergibt und BP nicht nur kräftig am Lack kratzt: Rücksichtslosigkeit wird dem Konzern vorgeworfen, Profitdenken, das sich nicht um Sicherheit kümmert. 11 Tote, Arbeiter auf der Bohrinsel, und eine gigantische Menge von auslaufendem Öl in den Golf von Mexiko waren die Folgen.

Es geht in Richter Barbiers Entscheidung um die Verantwortlichkeit für den Unfall auf der Bohrinsel "Deepwater Horizon" im April 2010, in dessen Folge sich eine Ölpest enormen Ausmaßes entwickelte: "Drei Monate lang spuckte die Macondo-Quelle laut offizieller Schätzung knapp 780000 Millionen Liter Öl ins Meer"

Welche Schäden, die Katastrophe anrichtete (siehe Das Öl, die Interessen und das Meer) ist noch nicht geklärt, die Wissenschaftler machten sich sofort auf Spurensuche und deuteten auf Folgeschäden, die nicht schnell zu ermitteln seien (Ölpest im Golf von Mexiko: Die Katastrophe nach der Katastrophe). So kamen Ergebnisse erst peu à peu ans Tageslicht (vgl. Bekämpfung der Ölpest im Golf von Mexiko mit Corexit erhöhte die Toxizität drastisch), als die Aufmerksamkeit der Öffentlichkeit längst verblasst war.

Auch der Schaden, den Fischer und andere Geschäfte hatten, die an der Golfküste ansässig sind, z.B. in der Tourismusbranche, ist nicht schnell und leicht zu ermitteln. Er ist ein Teil des Klagekomplexes gegen BP, Halliburton und TransOcean (Profit hat Priorität), wobei eben auch die Frage zu klären ist, wer welche Verantwortung für den Unfall und die darauf folgende Katastrophe zu übernehmen hat.

Dies entschied nun Richter Barbier. Er entschied aus Gründen, die ausführlich im eingangs erwähnten Dokument erklärt werden, dass BP zu mehr als zwei Drittel (67 Prozent) die Hauptverantwortung trage, 30 Prozent der Verantwortung fallen auf Transocean, der damaligen Verleihfirma der Bohrinsel, und drei Prozent auf Halliburton, das für die Befestigung des Bohranlagen am Meeresgrund verantwortlich war. BP habe mehrfach grob fahrlässig Alarmsignale ignoriert, um Zeit und Geld zu sparen, so der Kern der richterlichen Entscheidung.

Der Urteilsspruch hat nun noch weitere Verfahren zur Folge, in denen ermittelt wird, wie groß die Summe sein soll, die BP als Strafe zahlen muss. Die New York Times schätzt, dass sie sich aufgrund der Vorgaben amerikanischer Gesetze (Clean Water Act) auf bis zu 18 Milliarden Dollar belaufen könnte.

Davon unabhängig hat BP laut Zeitung bereits 28 Milliarden Dollar für Kosten, die durch den Bohrinselunfall entstanden sind, bezahlt. Dabei habe man sich mit Klägern in einem Vergleich geeinigt, wird berichtet. Das aktuelle Urteil hat Auswirkungen auf noch anhängige Zivilklagen, so juristische Experten.

Allerdings ist es noch nicht rechtsgültig und die Anwälte von BP haben bereits Einspruch angekündigt. Zwar räume der Konzern seine Mitschuld ein, halte aber den Schluss des Richters, dass BP die Hauptverantwortung trage, für fehlerhaft und falsch. Dem juristischen Verfahren kommt auch angesichts der neuen Welle von Ölbohraktivitäten vor der Küste eine gewisse Aufmerksamkeit zu.

Reposted byFreeminder2302mydafsoup-01

May 25 2014

6741 faeb 500
Reposted fromverschwoerer verschwoerer viatowser towser

May 08 2014

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Oil from BP's Deepwater Horizon disaster continues killing wildlife
Reposted fromFreeminder23 Freeminder23

February 23 2014

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Footage of BP handling the oil spil

Reposted fromOverseerSkretu OverseerSkretu viasydnor sydnor

September 10 2013

Louisiana Governor Jindal Not Buying BP Spin on Gulf Coast Impacts

Have environmental priorities finally trumped extreme right wing politics in the deep south? 

Louisiana's Republican governor Bobby Jindal has heard enough from oil giant BP, taking them to task recently for destroying sensitive coastal areas during the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil disaster.

For those of us who live along the Gulf Coast, it's good to see that Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal is fed up with BP’s ongoing ad campaign. Designed to greenwash their performance as compassionate and caring, BP's ads instead suggest that the families impacted by the 2010 Gulf Coast oil spill are greedy and corrupt - it's the mirror opposite of reality. 

At a recent gathering of the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council, Jindal said, “Three and a half years later, BP is spending more money -- I want you to hear this -- they are spending more money on television commercials than they have on actually restoring the natural resources they impacted.”

Mother Jones quotes Jindal to the Council:  “BP needs to stop spending hundreds of millions of dollars on their public relations campaign telling us how great they are and start proving it by addressing their Clean Water Act and Natural Resources Damage liabilities now.”

Jindal has good reasons to be upset with the oil company, as it appears that their oil spill fund could be as much as $6 billion short.

Jindal also pointed out that Transocean has “stepped up to the plate” and taken care of their financial responsibilities along the Coast, while BP appears to be attempting to skirt their responsibilities. 

But Jindal’s offensive wasn’t going to be met with silence from BP, and the company was quick to tell the media, “Governor Jindal and his aide Garret Graves have completely misrepresented BP's record in the Gulf as well as the legal framework under which further funding related to the Deepwater Horizon accident would become available. Their political grandstanding contains patently false assertions, defies the demonstrated record of environmental recovery that has occurred across the Gulf, and defames the massive efforts of tens of thousands of people to foster prompt recovery and restoration. Not that BP or anyone else should be surprised—these recent comments are their latest in a series of over-the-top statements and overblown demands since the accident.”  BP spokesman Geoff Morrell made that comment, according to Mother Jones.

We have exposed the massive PR campaign being carried out by BP, and you can find out about that here

Jindal’s rhetoric is certainly what those of us along the Gulf Coast want to hear, but that may very well be the reason that he is using that kind of harsh language. 

Jindal’s popularity in the state of Louisiana has bottomed out in recent months, and if the rumors floating around the media are to be believed, Jindal is in the running for the 2016 Republican presidential nod.  In the immediate months following Jindal’s tough response to the oil spill, his approval rating jumped by 10%.  Bringing back that same hardline approach to the oil giant could be his way of trying to rekindle that sentiment.

More reason to doubt Jindal’s sincerity comes from looking over his campaign finance records.  The oil and gas industry represents Jindal’s #2 overall campaign donor, giving the politician more than a quarter of a million dollars during his short career.  If a potential presidential run is in his future, he will need to keep those oil industry friends happy.

Compounding matters for Jindal is the fact he was an ardent supporter of deregulation for the oil industry, a factor that many correctly attribute as the cause of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster.

Jindal’s motives may be questionable, but at this point, its hard to be angry about them.  BP is taking advantage and demonizing the victims along the coast, and, even if it is for self-serving purposes, it is comforting to hear a politician taking them to task for their actions.

Tags:  bp Bobby Jindal Louisiana deepwater horizon oil spill PR media oil regulations polls Presidential Run 2016 Rumor gulf coast

June 27 2013

Large dead zone forming in the Gulf

Ocean experts had predicted a large “dead zone” area in the Gulf of Mexico this year, and according to the results from a researcher just back from studying the region, those predictions appear to be right on target.

April 22 2013

Three Years After the BP Spill and the Gulf Is Still a Mess

these days she travels without assignment, covering expenses on her own since few publications hire photographers or reporters to cover what's now an old news story. Last, Dermansky again visited the beaches and marshes along the Louisiana and Mississippi coast — some of the worst hit areas where crews are still cleaning up tar mats and tar balls. I spoke with Dermansky via email and over the phone about her trip and her assessment of the situation in the Gulf Coast. (...) Source: AlterNet
Reposted fromcheg00 cheg00

Es kam noch schlimmer.

Wie Hunderte, möglicherweise Tausende Arbeiter, die mit der Bekämpfung der Ölpest beschäftigt waren, wurde Griffin bald Opfer vieler qualvoller und bizarr wirkender Leiden. Im Juli verdrehten unkontrollierte Muskelspasmen ihre Hände zu unbeweglichen Klauen. Im August verlor sie kurzfristig ihr Erinnerungsvermögen. Nachdem sie zehn Jahre lang als Köchin gearbeitet hatte, erinnerte sie sich mit einem Mal nicht mehr, wie man eine Gemüsesuppe kocht. An einem Morgen stieg sie ins Auto und bemerkte, dass sie keine Hose angezogen hatte. Die rechte Seite ihres Körpers – und nur die rechte – "begann verrückt zu reagieren. Es fühlte sich so an, als würden die Nerven durch die Haut kommen. Es war höllisch schmerzhaft. Mein rechtes Bein schwoll an, irgendwann hatte mein Knöchel den Umfang meiner Wade, und meine Haut begann furchtbar zu jucken."

US-Ölpest: Giftige Kosmetik | Wissen | ZEIT ONLINE
Reposted fromylem235 ylem235
[l] Nach nur wenigen Jahren kommt raus, dass BP ihre Helfer und die Anwohner mit dem Dispersionsmittel vergiftet hat, damit das Öl untergeht und es im Fernsehen nicht so übel aussieht. Wer das jetzt für eine neue Einsicht hält, liest wohl mein Blog noch nicht lange :-)

Update: Eine Sache sei trotzdem erwähnt: Wikipedia über Corexit:

In late 2012, a study from Georgia Tech and Universidad Autonoma de Aguascalientes, Mexico reported that Corexit used during the BP oil spill made the oil up to 52 times more toxic.
Fefes Blog
Reposted fromYYY YYY

February 11 2013

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How Safe is Gulf Shrimp? Current Pictures of Gulf Shrimp filled with Tumors

October 25 2012

Environment Oil spills US downplayed effect of Deepwater oil spill on whales, emails reveal

Documents obtained by Greenpeace show officials controlling information about wildlife affected by the disaster

The images from the summer of 2010 were undoubtedly gruesome: the carcass of a young sperm whale, decayed and partially eaten by sharks, sighted at sea south of the Deepwater Horizon oil well.

It was the first confirmed sighting of a dead whale since the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in April that year – a time of huge public interest in the fate of whales, dolphins, sea turtles and other threatened animals – and yet US government officials supressed the first reports of the discovery and blocked all images until now.

The photographs, along with a cache of emails obtained by the campaign group Greenpeace under freedom of information provisions and made available to the Guardian, offer a rare glimpse into how many whales came into close contact with the gushing BP well during the oil spill.

They also show Obama administration officials tightly controlling information about whales and other wildlife caught up in the disaster.

A dead sperm whale floating in the gulf of mexico seen from the deck of noaa ship pisces The dead sperm whale in the Gulf of Mexico. Photograph: NOAA

The plight of wildlife caught up in the oil spill – especially endangered species such as sea turtles and sperm whales – has enormous financial implications for BP.

The oil company asked a judge in New Orleans this week to finalise its $7.8bn (£4.8bn) settlement for economic damages arising from the spill. But BP still faces claims from the federal government for environmental damages, and accounting for wildlife killed as a direct result of the spill – from dolphins to turtles to whales – will be critical to the final bill.

"In the settlement with BP, an endangered species or any animal killed by the spill matters," said Kert Davies, research director of Greenpeace.

That looming legal struggle was apparently already on the minds of officials at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) when crew aboard the research vessel, Pisces, spotted a dead sperm whale on the morning of 15 June 2010.

shark bites dead sperm whale floating in the gulf of mexico seen from the deck of noaa ship pisces The dead sperm whale in the Gulf of Mexico. Photograph: NOAA

The discovery was the first confirmed sighting of a dead whale since the blow-out on the Deepwater Horizon that April.

The carcass, which was decomposed and had been fed on by sharks, was spotted about 77 miles south of the Deepwater Horizon oil site.

Meanwhile, NOAA observers on another vessel at the well site that same day spotted five whales, including a juvenile, covered in oil. "Observers noticed that the young whale was covered in oil sheen," the detection report notes. "It is very possible that these adults were covered in the same oil as the juvenile whale was covered in as the water quality was very poor with iridescent sheens all over the surface."

The detection report goes on to describe a large plume of smoke rising from the water, from the controlled burns used to stop the oil from reaching the shoreline. "Small brown globs of what appear to be oil and possibly oil dispersant infiltrate the water."

There is no further indication in the email about what happened to the group of whales – or indeed any of the whales that may have been exposed to BP oil.

"Unless animals are tagged, they are nearly impossible to relocate as they move great distances quickly and stay submerged for prolonged periods of time," a NOAA spokesman, Scott Smullen, said in an email.

In any event, the government would not disclose how many – if any – whales might have died or been directly affected by the BP oil spill because of legal reasons, he said. "Due to ongoing litigation issues, we are not able to discuss this aspect of our investigation," Smullen wrote in an email on Wednesday.

In contrast, the discovery of the decomposed carcass set off a flurry of emails – with repeated instructions from NOAA officials to crew aboard the Pisces not to release information or photographs.

The crew were also directed to obtain samples from the whale to try to determine if it was killed as a result of the spill, and to mark the corpse.

The gag order rankled with some aboard the Pisces, as an 16 June 2010 email from the ship's commanding officer Lieutenant Commander Jeremy Adams suggests.

"Any chance I can give the green light to let folks share what we saw yesterday with loved ones ashore yet?" he wrote in the email. Twenty-four hours after the sighting he had heard, through the wife of another officer, of a crew member "posting something on their Facebook page to the effect that they saw a 'dead critter' yesterday but are being censored by NOAA from saying anything else … followed by a lot of indignant comments from others."

The attempt to shut out the media also sat uneasily with Greenpeace.

NOAA did put out a press release about the dead whale. However, the release was edited and shortened in a way which appeared to minimise the effects of oil on whales.

"The public has no idea what the fate of those animals is," Davies said.

That information may never surface. There were believed to be about 1,200 sperm whale in the Gulf of Mexico at the time of the spill, making it one of the biggest populations in the world.

However, scientists concede little is known about how whales respond to oil spills – even in an area as heavily mined as the Gulf of Mexico. Few whales strand on land, and it is practically impossible to carry out necropsies at sea.

"We do know that oil spills do kill whales but we know very little about how lethal they are and what makes them lethal," said Hal Whitehead, cetacean research biologist at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia. "The whales that are there or used to be there move around a fair amount so if they weren't actively avoiding the spill there is a good chance that quite a large proportion of them might have gone into it."

NOAA scientists, working with Oregon State University, have been tracking a number of sperm whale in the Gulf of Mexico through satellite transmitters since the spill. "There isn't at least anything published that has clear linkages between sperm whale that got covered in oil and died in the same way," said Bruce Mates who heads the marine mammal institute at Oregon State.

And with the one whale carcass recovered so far, scientists were not able to establish the definitive cause of death.

"Scientists did take samples from the carcass, but because the animal was so badly decomposed the cause of death could not be determined," Smullen said.

Indeed, Smullen said he was unable even to confirm whether the whale had even been exposed to BP oil, writing: "Due to ongoing litigation issues, we are not able to discuss this aspect of our investigation."

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Don't be the product, buy the product!