Estimates of Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Still Lacking

It’s still not clear how much crude is spewing from the stricken well at the site of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. BP claims a new containment system it deployed last week is siphoning roughly 11,000 barrels of oil per day from the gushing well a mile below the ocean. But according to The New York Times, experts say it is difficult , possibly impossible, to determine the new cap’s effectiveness.

If BP is right, then the system should be catching most of the flow, which government scientists estimate to be 12,000 to 19,000 barrels a day. But a live video feed of the undersea well appears to show just as much oil spewing into the ocean as was apparent prior to the containment system’s deployment. That has many doubting BP’s claims.

One member of a government team charged with estimating the flow rate, Ira Leifer, told the Times that he thinks BP’s new system – which involved cutting through a pipe called a riser – actually made the leak worse. Prior to its deployment, the company did warn that the procedure could increase the flow rate by as much as 20 percent.

“The well pipe clearly is fluxing way more than it did before,” said Dr. Leifer, a researcher at the University of California, Santa Barbara. “By way more, I don’t mean 20 percent, I mean multiple factors.”

For its part, BP has stopped trying to estimate the rate of oil gushing from the well, leaving that up to the federal government. Adm. Thad W. Allen, the Coast Guard commander in charge of the federal response to the spill, said yesterday that the government should be able to offer better estimates of the flow from the wellhead by tracking how much reaches the surface.

The Flow Rate Technical Group, the panel formed by the government to measure the flow, is scheduled to release a new estimate by early next week, the Times said. Some members of that group told the Times that they are being hindered from producing a truly accurate estimate because of stonewalling by BP. They say the company has taken its time producing high-resolution video that could be subjected to computer analysis, and has been reluctant to permit a direct measurement of the flow rate.

“It’s apparent that BP is playing games with us, presumably under the advice of their legal team,” Dr. Leifer said. “It’s six weeks that it’s been dumping into the Gulf, and still no measurements.”

Getting a handle on how much oil is leaking into the ocean is vital. Among other things, it will be used to determine BP’s liability for the disaster.

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