Nearly a month after the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, no one seems to know how much oil is leaking from the stricken well. The federal government finally acknowledged yesterday that current estimates are probably too low. What’s more, it could be several days before anyone comes up with an estimate that is even close to an actual amount.
For weeks now, BP and the federal government have said they thought about 5,000 barrels – roughly 210,000 gallons – of oil per day has been flowing from the gushing Deepwater Horizon well. That estimate was based on satellite pictures of the oil slick on the water’s surface. But scientists have been questioning that method because it does not account for any oil that might be located below the surface of the ocean. BP has resisted calls to use more advanced techniques to measure the flow.
But yesterday, BP conceded that it was collecting around 5,000 barrels per day via a 4-inch tube it had inserted into a broken pipe on the sea floor to collect some of the oil. Yet, video clearly shows oil continuing to spew from the pipe. BP said oil was also leaking from a spot a few yards away. There’s no denying now that the 5,000 barrel per day estimate is way off. Some scientists fear the leak could be 10 times that estimate.
According to The Washington Post, Coast Guard Adm. Thad W. Allen, who heads up the federal response to the spill, said it could be several days before a more accurate estimate of the flow is available. He also said hat the size of the leak would not affect cleanup efforts, which are geared to combat “the worst-case scenario.”
It does look like the federal government is losing patience with BP. According to The Wall Street Journal, the Obama administration on Thursday said BP isn’t doing enough to keep the government and public informed about the spill. In a letter to the company’s CEO, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Lisa Jackson and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said “efforts, to date, have fallen short in both their scope and effectiveness.”
“BP must make publicly available any data and other information related to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill that you have collected,” the letter said. It also asked for tests looking for traces of oil and dispersant chemicals in the waters of the gulf.
Yesterday, BP confirmed that the EPA had ordered it to find a less toxic dispersant to use on the spill. As we reported previously, the company had been using a line called Corexit in unprecedented amounts to try to break up the Deepwater Horizon spill. However, Corexit had been banned in the UK ten years ago, and critics have said that there are safer, more effective products on the market BP could be using.
BP was given 24 hours to choose a safer alternative. Once approved by the EPA, BP will have 72 hours to deploy the new chemicals.
Meanwhile, the spill continues to move into Louisiana’s wetlands and marshes. According to The Wall Street Journal, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) projects that oil will continue to wash ashore over the next few days, particularly in Louisiana’s Plaquemines and Lafourche parish.
Some scientist fear the spill could cause even more of the Louisiana wetlands to revert to open water, the Journal said. The region has been losing the vital wetlands for a century, but if a large amount of oil comes ashore, the process could be accelerated.