An investigative report on the Huffington Post revealed that the Federal Government’s claims that it can not release data to the public and scientists studying the impact of the the BP Gulf Oil Spill due to litigation with BP just don’t add up.

The Huffington Post has revealed that the critical data the Government says it can’t release to the public due to the litigation is actually being turned over to BP as soon as it is collected, catching the Government in an outright lie.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is hoarding vast amounts of raw data that independent marine researchers say could help both the public and scientists better understand the extent of the damage being caused by the massive BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

In most cases, NOAA insists on putting the data through a ponderous, many-weeks-long vetting process before making it public.

In other cases, NOAA actually intended to keep the data secret indefinitely. But officials told the Huffington Post on Tuesday that they have now decided to release it — though when remains unclear.

BP, incidentally, gets to see all this data right away.

At issue are test results from a series of research missions conducted by NOAA or NOAA-sponsored ships exploring the extent and effect of oil beneath the surface of the Gulf. Due to the leak’s depth and the unprecedented use of dispersants, much of the oil is thought to have spread in gigantic undersea plumes, potentially adding a huge, so-far mostly invisible toll to the devastation so obviously manifesting itself along the nation’s Gulf shore.

Despite early urgent warnings from independent scientists that oil suspended in the water column is likely killing wide swaths of sea life in the short run — and possibly endangering marine animals and coastlines for decades to come — NOAA was slow to send out research vessels to probe the extent of the problem, and even slower to confirm it.

NOAA eventually sent out a half dozen ships packed with scientists, on back-to-back research missions. But the only detailed results so far made public were collected during a single mission that ended in late May — almost two months ago. And some data — including from the very first research vessel to take underwater tests, the Jack Fitz — wasn’t slated to be released at all, because it’s part of what NOAA calls its Natural Resources Damage Assessment (NRDA).

NRDA data is traditionally kept close to the vest until potentially adversarial legal wranglings are over. But in this case, the obvious lead defendant, BP, is part of the Joint Incident Command, to whom all the raw data is being turned over immediately.

After the Huffington Post launched it’s inquiry into the matter the Federal Government has back pedaled on its previous statements that it was keeping information confidential because of litigation and will now release it to the public, but would not give any time frames on when.

NOAA officials told the Huffington Post on Tuesday that, in a turnaround, they will now be making NRDA data public — but they offered no timeline for that process.

In a statement to the Huffington Post, NOAA officials insisted that they are working as hard as they can to get the public accurate data, as fast as possible. “We understand the public’s need for answers and consider it our responsibility to help provide those answers,” NOAA spokesman Justin Kenney wrote in an e-mail. “Our commitment is to do what it takes to provide the right answers. Doing so requires upholding the highest standards of data quality and analysis to ensure our conclusions are correct. This process does take time, but we are doing everything we can to make quality data available in a timely fashion, to responders, our scientific partners, and to the public.”

It is not just the public that is fed up with the run around and the constant stream of lies from the Government but the scientists trying to research and monitor the impact of the spill are now getting frustrated as well.

But when it comes to data about what’s going on under the surface, some marine researchers are fed up with NOAA’s slow-walk policy.

“It’s not about science, it’s about what their responsibility is to the public,” said Vernon Asper, a professor of marine science at the University of Southern Mississippi.

“We want to find out what the impact is going to be. In order to do that, we need to find out as much as possible about what’s happening to the oil, and make as many measurements as we possibly can.”

Asper was part of a team of scientists aboard the Pelican, one of the first research vessels to test for oil under the surface — and, it should be noted, to report the existence of underwater plumes.

“What I’d like to see is the data released as soon as possible, with the proper qualifications, in the interest of openness and especially in the interest of allowing scientists like myself to plan our work. To plan our sampling, we need to know what they’ve found,” Asper told the Huffington Post.

So don’t be surprised the next time we have a massive oil spill and the Government doesn’t have any answers to give besides “We don’t know”.

On of the major issues that the Government is withholding data about is test results of oxygen depletion in the waters.

Oxygen depletion in the Gulf from the BP Gulf Oil Spill is now confirmed to have caused a massive dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico where no life can survive.

Scientists know that the existing dead zone will only grow larger as more oil continues to spew into the Gulf of Mexico and other dead zones are likely to appear in more places.

The scientists are frustrated that the Government is stifling research efforts with the refusal to release important data about such a critical issue.

Scientists are primarily searching for signs of oil in the water and the consequent depletion of oxygen. Calibrating oxygen measurements is apparently a consistent challenge, and researchers typically don’t release data until they’ve accounted for any inconsistencies.

Asper gets that. But, he said, “even if their results are off by 10 or 20 percent because of calibration or something, that still helps me. That’s the kind of information that’s required.” In this case, he said, “my view on that would be: Go ahead and release the data but say: ‘These don’t agree. We haven’t figured this out, but here they are anyway.’ It’s still totally useful information.”

And Asper expressed frustration about one issue in particular: “If BP can see the data,” he asked, “why can’t the taxpayers see it?”

There are two main goals when it comes to sub-surface testing. One is to get a better sense of how much oil has spilled; another is to get a better sense of what it’s doing to sea life. When it comes to the latter, the key indicator involves oxygen levels, and the fear is that the oil will turn regions of the Gulf hypoxic, when means the water would have insufficient dissolved oxygen levels to sustain living aquatic organisms.

As it happens, the Northern Gulf already develops a large, hypoxic “dead zone” every summer, on account of all the nitrogen from sewage or fertilizer flowing down the Mississippi River.

Scientists testing for subsea oil have found depleted levels of oxygen, but the good news is that so far, none of them have come close to hypoxia, according to Wanninkhof — who, unlike the rest of us, is seeing the raw data.

He warns that those levels could still go down, however, as microbes start to eat the oil in earnest, and in doing so deplete oxygen.

And Asper, the marine scientist from Southern Mississippi, warns that, at the depths where the plumes are mostly being found, even a slight reduction in oxygen could have serious and very long-lasting consequences.

“The water at great depths hasn’t been on the surface in a long time,” he said. “It’s old water” that rose to the surface in Antarctica, perhaps hundreds of years ago, got chilled, and spread out along the ocean floor. Just as it hasn’t seen the surface in a long time, Asper said, “this water that’s down there won’t get back to the surface of the ocean for probably hundreds of years longer.”

So to the extent that oxygen levels there are depleted, he said, “it’s quite likely that oxygen will stay low for a long time.”