Government scientists have doubled their estimate of the oil flow rate into the Gulf of Mexico from the BP oil spill. According to the Flow Rate Technical Group, anywhere from 25,000 to 30,000 barrels of crude a day are gushing from the undersea well.
According to The New York Times, the new figures were based on a more detailed analysis of information including video of the gushing oil. It was also based on the first direct measurement of the flow, using sonar equipment.
To put it in perspective, if these estimates are accurate, 42 million gallons to more than 100 million gallons of oil have flowed into the Gulf since the April 20 explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon oil rig. The lowest estimate is nearly four times the size of the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill.
Previous estimates had put the range roughly between half a million and a million gallons a day, perhaps higher. At one point, the federal government claimed only 42,000 gallons were spilling a day and then it upped the number to 210,000 gallons.
Even with this higher number, there is still a good chance scientists are underestimating the true flow rate. That’s because the new figures do not count any increases that may have occurred since BP cut the well’s riser pipe to deploy a new containment system. BP had said prior to that operation that it could further increase the flow up to 20 percent. It will be several days before a new estimate taking that into account is available.
It is vital that an accurate estimate of the flow be calculated, as the figure will impact assessments of how much environmental damage has been done, and will be important in determining BP’s liability for the spill.
For its part, BP is downplaying the significance of the new estimate – something it seems to do every time news becomes worse. “The estimates of how much oil is actually coming out of the well we’ve made clear from the very beginning is just that, it’s an estimate,” BP Spokesman Hugh Depland told ABC News at an information session late Thursday arranged by the oil company and the U.S. Coast Guard.
“Any number that gets attached to [the oil] is an estimate, and estimates are changeable and they have changed,” said Depland.
The containment system BP deployed last week is capturing nearly 16,000 barrels per day from the leaking pipe using its containment cap, but oil still continues to gush from the well, as can be seen on a live video feed from the ocean floor.
The company said it will continue to improve containment efforts, and that a semi-submersible drilling rig could begin capturing and burning another 10,500 barrels per day beginning early next week. A second vessel should arrive within days to increase collection capacity, and BP will bring in a tanker to transport the gathered oil.