My 100% super civil email exchange with a BP official

Robert Wine and I politely chat on the internets

I’d love to know what kind of bet Robert Wine lost where he ended up having to explain the actions of his company to a lowly blogger.

Robert’s official title is “press officer,” and from the tone of his emails, he didn’t really appreciate a no-name busybody asking questions about the actions of the paycheck dispensary.

My favorite aspect of this exchange is how we both start off with our bestest smiles on, and adopt pristine tones of civility.

Yeah, that ends about halfway through the email convo.

Some background: I wrote BP as a follow-up to their official statement on the sand dumping allegations. BP claims the gathering and dumping of sand into piles are part of the cleaning process.

Re: BP’s explanation for dumping sand (

How does BP discern which areas are “clean” and which areas are “contaminated” since the storms keep flattening the piles and burying the oil?


Allison Kilkenny


Wine, Robert

Beaches naturally pass through a series of growth and degradation depending on the sea conditions. Storms that have passed through the area have deposited sand on the beach and eroded it again exposing oil buried by sediments brought in by the weather.   Now that the bad weather has moved through the clean-up area, crews are able to return to the water and beaches and renew the process of removing the oil. There is a long-term treatment plan for Grand Isle which includes the collection and washing of oiled sand including buried oil.Part of this plan includes collecting and storing oiled sand in piles for later cleaning.

At no time has clean sand been used to cover or bury oil or oiled sand.


Robert Wine
Press Officer

Hi Robert -

Thanks for getting back to me. Couple follow-up questions:

1. How does BP mark the “clean” areas and the “contaminated” areas? In the video I received, it’s not clear where these “piles” are because it appears as though the ocean tides have flattened them, effectively burying the oil again (if I’m understanding this correctly).

2. Does BP intend to lift the 65-feet rule so journalists can continue to observe the clean-up effort more closely?

Thank you,

Allison Kilkenny


Wine, Robert

Allison, I don’t know what video you have.

Let me say it again: “At no time has clean sand been used to cover or bury oil or oiled sand.

I’m afraid I haven’t heard anything about a 65-foot rule – if it exists it’s purely a safety matter, not media access.


Reiterates Media Access Policy

Release date: 01 July 2010

Everyone involved in the response effort should “feel free to talk” to media about their experiences.

BP today offered additional guidance and clarification to all personnel to ensure that members of the response team – including, but not limited to, all government, BP, and contract personnel – know they are free to talk to the media.

“I want to thank everyone for their tremendous commitment to lead and support the response and cleanup efforts,” said Doug Suttles, COO of BP. “I really cannot say this enough: BP wants all individuals to feel free to share their thoughts and experiences with journalists, if they so choose. BP has not and will not prevent anyone from sharing his or her own experiences, opinions, or views.”

BP has provided guidelines and “media access cards” (samples attached) to be distributed at all levels of operations. The cards include helpful tips and a 1-800 number personnel can call for more information.

View guidelines

View media access cards

Further information:

BP Press Office London: +44 20 7496 4076
BP Press Office, US: +1 281 366 0265





Kilkenny, Allison

So the 65-feet rule ( is not implemented by BP? Is it the Coast Guard’s policy?

A lot of people are a little confused as to who is in charge of these policies, especially when the Coast Guard says things like they are acting under the authority of BP when they intimidate the media:


Wine, Robert

Thanks Allison, I’d missed that.

These look like the definitive policies: (20m = 65 ft) and Possibly more authoritative than blogs, eh?

The Unified Command is in charge – that’s the law: OPA90.

We have been saying for a long time that we are not restricting media access but need to work within the unified command. After some period of conflicting reports, we issued the clarification on our media policy. Safety would be the only consideration and some response contractors may have their own policy about their own staff.




Kilkenny, Allison

Just so I’m understanding the chain of command here – The Unified Command is jointly run by the US gov’t and BP, but who is actually in charge? Is the US gov’t disseminating BP’s info, or is BP obeying laws first constructed by the Coast Guard? Who created the 65 ft rule?

Wine, Robert

Allison, it’s absolutely clear. The US Coast Guard runs a unified command including BP and many other organisations and govt agencies. OPA90 was introduced after the Exxon Valdez spill to clarify roles and responsibilities, identify resources, require plans, etc.

Under OPA90, the owner of the oil (in this case the three MC252 leaseholders, but it could be a ship’s cargo) are responsible for the clean-up, regardless of the cause of the spill.

The website is the Unified Command’s. We have co-input to that (but not control of), and the info we post on is similarly co-ordinated.



Kilkenny, Allison

Ok, so when the Coast Guard and contractors said they were working under the authority of BP, they misspoke?

And when Lt. Commander J.R. Hoeft said the official figures of the spill are coming from BP, and not the US gov’t, he also misspoke?

I guess I define “in charge” meaning the US gov’t is the one disseminating “security rules” and official numbers, but in these cases it appears as though the chain of command is reversed. Did Hoeft get his facts wrong?


Here’s what really set him off. When I sent him the link to the MJ article, he reacts like I just flung shit in his eyes.
Wine, Robert

Yes, the Unified Command is the over-riding authority.

The original estimate of 1000bpd came from BP, the subsequent estimates – with caveats about the precision – of 5000bpd came form NOAA; then upto 19000 or 25000 depending on technical assumptions, and then 35,000-60,000 from the FRTG.

For facts, may I recommend you use official sources of information – the government websites; BP if you wish – not third party opinion. That’s what good journalism should be about. I wouldn’t presume to offer you advice about how you interpret those facts. But MotherJones is not the USCG.



Please, tell me more about good journalism, guy who works for BP!

I found this part particularly hilarious because BP has been wrong about pretty much everything every step of the way. This is the company that cut corners to the point where one of their rigs exploded into a fiery ball of fail, killing 11 people, lied about spill estimates, and I guess now wants everyone to believe whatever propaganda they spew through a disgruntled employee, who really fucking loathes bloggers.

Maybe this is where I would have just left well enough alone, but the good news is I’m not a MSM journalist, and don’t need Robert Wine in my rolodex. So long, Bobby.

Kilkenny, Allison

Well, I’d use BP’s “facts,” but as you can see, they’re oftentimes wrong, or to put it more generously “low-balled.”

For example, BP told the US government it could handle a spill 60 times larger than the Deepwater Horizon. Wrong. (That’s a MMS document, so it shouldn’t have the stink of “dirty liberal” on it like Mother Jones might).

BP said the top kill was working…except it wasn’t.

BP denied the existence of underwater plumes…except they’re real. (Again, that’s the NOAA speaking, not a lowly blogger)

As part of your ongoing commitment to openness, BP barred cleanup workers from photographing dead animals.

And I could go on. It’s precisely because of the ever-changing figures and clear lack of transparency that the best work on this story is being done by independent journalists, since BP “facts” keep jumping all over the place, and always appear to be constructed while keeping the company’s public image in mind.

And since the US gov’t is getting their numbers from BP, which has been wrong more often than right on spill data, it’s difficult for critical thinking individuals to acquiesce when BP says “trust us.”


Wine, Robert

Allison, BP never said the top kill was working – where on earth have you got that from? We put a percentage chance of the success on it, we gave updates during the operation, and we announced it had failed. Stop making things up.

Facts on NOAA missions: including report:

I don’t know anything about barring media to dead animals. Where was this? When? I’ll check it for you.

BP’s info hasn’t been changing – it’s on the website, you can check back, it’s all archived.




Kilkenny, Allison

There was talk that it appeared to be working, according to the Coast Guard, who got their info from BP:

Speaking of making things up, BP has consistently low-balled figures, and frankly made things up (i.e. the underwater oil plumes the NOAA confirmed the existence of). I noticed you didn’t respond to that, so I thought I’d include it again.

I find it very strange that these are the first time you’re hearing these allegations. The NY Daily News had the story on the dead animals (

Of course, I will post Robert’s reply when (and if) it ever comes. I may be a dirty blogger, but I’m not uncivil. Update: Here is his response:

Wine, Robert

Allison, I sent you the links to the NOAA press releases where they confirm the findings of oil. What exactly do you want from us??? Did you follow the links?

And that NY Daily News story talks about a contract worker claiming that we we wouldn’t want anyone to see it – it doesn’t say BP blocked access. “said a BP contract worker who took the Daily News on a surreptitious tour.”

The BP quote says:  “BP spokesman Toby Odone denied the company is trying to hide the environmental damage; he noted BP has organized press visits to the spill zone and said BP cannot tell cops what to do.”

I suggest that you learn to distinguish between and analyse third party reports, unsubstantiated allegations, confirmed events or errors, company quotes, government data, and all manner of fact and fiction in between.



Just to clarify: BP denied the existence of these plumes for quite some time, even as NOAA was posting studies contradicting BP’s official line, so that is clearly what I’m referring to. Bobby just keeps sending me to DWH’s website, which now acknowledges the existence of the plumes, though conveniently lacks dated posts, so it isn’t clear when the company started recognizing this reality. My browser wasn’t downloading the bar containing the date – the date is marked June 21, 2010, some twelve days after NOAA’s findings. BP’s COO Doug Suttles took to the airwaves during that time to deny the plumes.

What is clear is BP is consistently behind the curve in acknowledging the severity of the spill – whether we’re talking about the number of gallons spilt, or the size of underwater plumes.

I wish BP luck in their future endeavors poisoning the earth and then acting all bitchy when people ask them questions about it.


  1. Whoa! Quite the pair you got to follow this through.

  2. In response to your information sourced from blogs, he quotes a “more authoritiative” source, company blogs. I think he meant “authoritarian.”

  3. polar f4

    That was a awesome read,You discover something new every day.

  4. I have to say, that was pretty damn awesome. He really did seem quite upset (or is distressed a better word for it?) by that last email (“What exactly do you want from us???”). I could imagine that a ‘press officer’, or ‘spin doctor’ as I prefer to call those in that line of work, is probably quite enraged that you actually have evidence that goes against him and, of course, his almighty employer – BP. Awesome read.

  5. ThatJeff

    Did he ever define how his company was marking ‘clean sand’ and ‘contaminated sand’? I read through the post twice, but didn’t see it.

  6. Excuse me, but really now, was the gulf spill really that big of a disaster? I believe mother nature took care of 90% of the spill on her own. All the hyperbole was for not!

  7. Allison Kilkenny

    It’s delusional to think mother nature “took care of 90% of the spill on her own.” BP just conducted the largest science experiment in the world’s history on the Gulf by dumping two million gallons of toxic chemical dispersants into the ocean – the effects of which we won’t know for years, if not decades. That’s how environmental catastrophes work. It takes years and years to learn their full toll. For example, scientists are still sorting out the full ramifications of the Exxon disaster.

    All BP successfully did was use chemical dispersants to sink the oil. Dispersants aren’t fairy dust. They don’t magically make the oil disappear. All they do is coagulate the oil and sink it beneath the ocean’s surface. That works out great for BP because it hides the oil from media cameras, and prevents the ugly PR calamity of blackened beaches, but we don’t know what the anchored oil will do to the ocean’s ecosystem.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>