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New estimates: BP oil debacle at 25,000 to 30,000 barrels per day

By Lynn Herrmann     Jun 11, 2010 in Environment
Government scientists on Thursday have doubled their previous estimates on the flow of oil pouring from BP’s runaway well in the Gulf of Mexico, making the newest numbers a stunning 25,000 to 30,000 barrels of oil. Per day.
New calculations on the BP oil spill dwarf the previous estimate of 12,000 to 19,000 barrels per day. The new numbers of 25,000 to 30,000 barrels per day, possibly as high as 40,000 barrels per day, more than double previous numbers and will undoubtedly lead to a showdown between BP and the US government over the amount of money BP will be asked to pay for cleaning up the environmental disaster as well as the amount levied against the environmental polluter in the the way of fines.
The new estimate will also increase, or confirm, suspicions many Americans feel over BP’s early estimates of 5,000 barrels per day, and reports suggest the new numbers will increase political pressure on BP, pressure that has begun to intensify in recent days.
The Flow Rate Technical Group (FRTG), a team of experts from universities and government science agencies, had based their previous estimates on information provided by BP, information that proved to be inadequate for an accurate appraisal, according to a report in McClatchy earlier this week.
FRTG, under the direction of National Incident Commander Admiral Thad Allen, and the leadership of Dr. Marcia McNutt, director of the US Geological Survey, along with a scientific team led by Energy Secretary Steven Chu, have analyzed new data and combined it with several scientific methodologies to arrive at the new estimate.
“Developing accurate and scientifically grounded oil flow rate information is vital, both in regards to the continued response and recovery, as well as the important role this information may play in the final investigation of the failure of the blowout preventer and the resulting spill,” said Admiral Allen.
According to Allen, more than one million gallons of dispersant have been used on the oil disaster. “We’re starting to limit the dispersants on the surface to where we need it for safety reasons—for putting down volatile organic compounds or when we have a spill of such magnitude where dispersants have a direct affect in trying to limit our dispersant application to the subsea injections and over 4 million gallons have been recovered either through the riser insertion tube or our containment cap so far,” Allen said in his Friday morning press briefing.
While Allen references the increased flow rate of oil after the riser was cut as “whatever increase there might have been after the cut in the riser pipe,” a scientist on the FRTG suggests the unimpeded flow of oil after the June 3 cutting of the pipe could be 100,000 barrels per day.
Ira Leifer, associate researcher at the Marine Science Institute of the University of California, said that the rate of flow from the blown out well has been increasing over time, most notably since BP’s failed “top kill” effort last month. His research is based, in part, on satellite data and he notes the flow rate was actually increasing before the riser pipe was cut.
"The situation is growing worse," Leifer said.
Leifer also suggests the increase in flow since the severing of the riser pipe last week is far greater than the 20 percent estimate that BP and the Obama administration had predicted before the pipe cutting. Another number is being prepared by the FRTG that will cover the period after the pipe cutting, according to the New York Times.
Dr. McNutt, on Thursday, announced that three of the scientific teams had reached their new assessment based on detailed analysis of flow rates from the Deepwater Horizon well before June 3, the day the riser was cut.
“Each of the methodologies that the scientific teams is using has its advantages and shortcomings, which is why it is so important that we take several scientific approaches to solving this problem, that the teams continue working to refine their analyses and assessments, and that those many data points inform the updated best estimate that we are developing, ” said Dr. McNutt, in the official announcement by the Deepwater Horizon Incident Joint Information Center.
Referencing the upcoming meeting next week between President Obama and BP officials, Allen said “it was time to sit down and talk.”
In an attempt to allay fears over BP’s ability to pay dividends to stockholders, BP spokesman Andrew Gowers said: “We intend to meet all our obligations to all our stakeholders. We are a very financially strong company.”
Regardless, Credit Suisse has estimated the cleanup costs at $15 billion to $23 billion, with an additional $14 billion in claims.
As the crude oil continues its trek through the Gulf’s waters, Florida is bracing itself for the inevitable impact upon its tourism industry. The state, along with Escambia County officials, have announced the closing of Pensacola Pass to any vessel traffic during flood tide. Pensacola Pass will reopen during the ebb tide cycle and this plan will remain in effect until further notice.
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