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W.House blocked BP oil spill estimates - Govt panel

A crab, covered with oil, walks along an oil absorbent boom near roso-cane reeds at the South Pass of the Mississippi River in Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana, in this August 1, 2010 file photo. REUTERS/Patrick Semansky/Pool/Files

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The White House in the spring blocked release of government worst-case estimates of the amount of oil spewing from BP'sBP.L well in the Gulf of Mexico, the presidential commission looking into the accident said on Wednesday.

The commission said government officials told its staff that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) wanted to release some of its long-term, worst-case spill models for the Deepwater Horizon accident in late April or early May. But the White House Office of Management and Budget blocked the move to make the information public.

The commission criticized the decision, saying the information could have boosted public confidence in the response to the accident.

“Staff was told that the Office of Management and Budget denied NOAA’s request,” the commission said in a draft report on the amount of oil spilled and what happened to it.

The White House decision to block the estimates came as BP was being criticized for failing to provide accurate information on the amount of oil leaking from its well.

The commission said “disclosure of those estimates, and explanation of their role in guiding the government effort, may have improved public confidence in the response” to the spill.

Failing to make the numbers public “may have contributed to public skepticism about whether the government appreciated the size of the Deepwater Horizon spill and was truly bringing all of its resources to bear,” the commission said.

Commission staff said it found out that the possibility of releasing the worst-case discharge figures was at least discussed at the Unified Command level that oversaw efforts to plug the BP well and clean up the leaked oil.

Reporting by Tom Doggett; Editing by David Gregorio