When oil began flowing into the Gulf of Mexico after the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded, BP initially refused to allow scientists to send measuring instruments to the site, and delayed releasing a video feed of the leak. When it was finally made available, the company insisted that there was no “reliable” way to measure the rate of flow using the feed. But scientists like Steven Wereley at Purdue University argued that there are in fact a number of proven methods for making just such a calculation, and used the feed to calculate a rate of flow ten times higher than the rate BP was providing at the time.
The company’s financial interest in underestimating the damage done by the oil took many forms. Shareholders had already been fleeing, and they faced calls for tougher regulations. On top of that, accurate information about the extent of the damage were likely to play a role in criminal charges and liability for what might had the potential to be the largest tort in US history. Nonetheless, perhaps greater transparency would have been a better policy for BP, as their attempts to suppress information about the spill was widely covered by the press and likely did great damage to their image and the public’s trust of the oil industry in general.
Update: Wereley’s calculations appear to have been close to the mark.