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Thursday, May 13

Fears that Gulf Oil leak much larger than estimate

On May 12, 2010 at 6:31 PM a RBO reader with the screen name "The Destructionist" left the following comment at RBO blog's crosspost of my May 1 post titled Oil Spill: Cameron International and Deepwater Horizon companies in the crosshairs over failed oil rig blowout ‘fail safe’ mechanism:
I have a sinking feeling that this oil disaster is being downplayed and may be much larger than we think. I wanted to know just how much oil was flowing into the ocean from that broken pipeline (in both barrels and in gallons) so I did some research on my own.

Barrels vs. Gallons

Most news articles claim that since April 21, 2010 roughly 4 million gallons of sweet crude have been leaked into the Gulf at a rate of 210,000 gallons per day. But according to an Associated Press article just posted today ("What went wrong at oil rig? A lot ..."), approximately 4,000,000 barrels have already spilled into the Gulf. When you convertthose barrels into gallons, you end up with a whopping 168,000,000 gallons of oil: that’s a difference of 164,000,000 gallons from the previous estimate! [...]
Around 8:45 PM tonight, May 13, The New York Times published a report by Justin Gillis titled Doubts on Estimate of Volume of Oil Spilling in Gulf. So. It seems the RBO reader's concerns are justified. The Times report becomes more troubling as it goes along and suggests there's been stonewalling or at least evasions not only from BP but also from the government regarding the estimate figure.

Here I'm only quoting the opening paragraphs of the report with the recommendation that you go to the Times site for the rest, if you're at all interested in understanding the situation with the oil spill:
Two weeks ago, the government put out a round estimate of the size of the oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico: 5,000 barrels a day. Repeated endlessly in news reports, it has become conventional wisdom.

But scientists and environmental groups are raising sharp questions about that estimate, declaring that the leak must be far larger. They also criticize BP for refusing to use well-known scientific techniques that would give a more precise figure.

The criticism escalated on Thursday, a day after the release of a video that showed a huge black plume of oil gushing from the broken well at a seemingly high rate. BP has repeatedly claimed that measuring the plume would be impossible.

The figure of 5,000 barrels a day was hastily produced by government scientists in Seattle. It appears to have been calculated using a method that is specifically not recommended for major oil spills.[...]
The Deconstructionist also provided links to two additional reports, one from the Examiner titled Toxic chemicals used in BP oil spill cleanup, oil to remain flowing through Gulf and one from AP titled Missing data causing rig reconstruction mystery by Associated Press Writers Allen G. Breed and Curt Anderson. The date on the AP report is May 13, (7:31 pm EDT). I have no idea how that report got into the Deconstructionist's May 12 comment; AP can work in mysterious ways -- not the least of which is that they tend to remove reports from the internet after so many days. That means you're out of luck if you've only saved the link and want to reference the report weeks or months later. However, the report is excellent (and extensive), as is the first AP one Deconstructionist linked to; worth copying and saving if you're planning on keeping a file on the oil spill story.

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