The BP Papers: CSIRO accused of helping oil major BP play down environment damage

by Callum Foote | Nov 10, 2023 | Energy & Environment, Latest Posts

Internal BP documents discovered in the Deepwater Horizon case in the US indicate CSIRO’s science was manipulated by the oil company. Callum Foote reports.

Lawyers from The Downs Law Group, a Miami (US) based law firm, have sent a letter to the CEO of the CSIRO alleging that global oil giant BP has had a significant influence over the organisation’s research.

The Downs Law Group is a personal injury law firm that works on a ‘no-win, no-fee’ basis. They are currently representing numerous response workers and Gulf Coast residents who were affected by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, and have filed lawsuits alleging personal injury and medical claims against BP.

In a letter, sent to newly appointed CSIRO CEO Doug Hilton yesterday, the group alleged that BP engaged in a campaign of misinformation,

to promote the false premise in the scientific literature that the [Deepwater Horizon oil spill] and BP’s response were less harmful to people and the environment than independent science provides,

according to Jason Clark, an associate attorney at The Downs Law Group.

These studies all involved the environmental impacts of the Deepwater Horizon disaster that killed 11 crewmen and spilled over 700 million litres of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

BP science manipulation

The litigation has provided them with access to internal BP documents and communications that appear to demonstrate BP’s manipulation of CSIRO science.

According to the letter, the law group has “identified nine studies with CSIRO employees listed as either the primary or co-authors – wherein BP’s involvement was either undisclosed or insufficiently disclosed.”

Additionally, Clark says that “what was never disclosed was the apparent involvement of BP’s attorneys in the review and approval of these studies.”

The Downs Law Group has requested that CSIRO make its employees’ communications with BP and BP’s legal counsel regarding the impacted studies public.

The group has also requested that CSIRO publish details of any contracts between CSIRO and BP or BP’s legal counsel “in an effort to clarify whether BP had any contractual decision-making authority on CSIRO’s presentation and publications.”

The law group has claimed that it discovered internal BP documents and communications that show BP’s attorneys were involved in ghostwriting and ghost-managing the submission of Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill related public presentations subsequently published in scientific journals.

BP has designated these documents as confidential before they were obtained through the United States’ federal legal system’s pretrial discovery process.

The BP Papers

The documents are a part of a larger series called “The BP Papers” published by the Downs Law Group, who successfully argued in court to have them made available to the public.

According to Clark, the papers “serve as a peek behind the curtain of secrecy that too often shrouds public health lawsuits. These emails, studies, reports, and memoranda among BP employees and contractors appear to depict BP’s potential playbook to “’manufacture doubt’ about scientific evidence that finds petrochemicals are dangerous and toxic.”

Some comments made by BP staff of CSIRO studies include:

“[W]e do not have a revised final with CSIRO authors.”

“Planned for December. Approved?”

“I will need confirmation they are indeed underway, so I can track them and make sure they go through the review process.”

“CSIRO paper from last year, which made it through the review process and was approved.”

The “BP Papers” contains several publication trackers that demonstrate how BP used to manage a flow of scientific studies and presentations. CSIRO first appears on a publication tracker for papers on oil seepages or “Seeps.” This tracker documents BP’s nine-step process of publishing a study, beginning with “paper submitted by author” and includes “final legal review” and “final BP approval.”

BP the ghostwriter

After BP provided a legal review of the study and then approved the study, the next step states, “submitted to journal.” These steps provide further evidence BP was seeding the scientific literature with studies for legal purposes, not for reasons of science.

Peter Carragher is a co-author for a number of the articles which BP has allegedly been ghost authoring.

According to Carragher’s LinkedIn profile, Carragher was BP’s VP of Geoscience & Exploration from 1977 to 2010. In 2010, Carragher then became a consulting senior advisor to BP’s Gulf Coast Restoration Organization (GCRO), established in 2010 to “manage the company’s long-term response to the Deepwater Horizon incident…”

This would not be the first instance of gas industry input in CSIRO’s research. Earlier this month, an independent review of a Gas Industry Social and Environmental Research Alliance’s (GISERA) review into the Beetaloo Basin uncovered significant anomalies.

Surprise! CSIRO gas funded research lowballs emissions from Darwin’s Middle Arm petro-port and Beetaloo fracking

GISERA, is an alliance agreement between the four biggest unconventional gas companies in Australia (Australia Pacific LNG, Origin Energy, QGC, and Santos) and CSIRO.

The review, produced by Climate Analytics, found that the report which has been used by the Federal and Northern Territory governments to justify the Beetaloo Basin expansion, had massively understated the emissions to result from the Beetaloo Basin project.

The Minister for Industry and Science, Ed Husic MP, and former Minister for Science and Technology, Melissa Price, have both also been forwarded the email from the law firm.

A CSIRO spokesperson has told that “CSIRO has been contacted by a US legal firm regarding research publications that include CSIRO authors relating to the Mississippi Canyon in the Gulf of Mexico, the location of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in April to July of 2010.

This research included data on sea-floor seepage and changes in the dissolved hydrocarbon content of shallow waters during and shortly after the Deepwater Horizon incident.

CSIRO maintains high standards of research ethics and conduct consistent with the principles and responsibilities of the Australian Code for Responsible Conduct in Research, 2018.

Research undertaken by CSIRO is conducted independently and underpinned by rigorous standards, including the peer review process.”

Callum Foote was a reporter for Michael West Media for four years.

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