Independent estimates are now indicating that the oil well leak in the Gulf of Mexico may be spreading 70,000 barrels of oil per day, and likely in the 50,000 to 100,000 barrel per day range. Meanwhile, capping of the well, after the failed effort last week, is not an immediate prospect as BP officials outline plans that sound more like a children's game than a scientifically-founded effort. More about these plans can be seen in the video.
After hearing the controversy about the actual size of the leak, US Congressman Edward Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, has announced that he will be sending a letter shortly to BP asking them for details on how they arrived at the 5,000 barrels per day number that they have been repeating (after initially estimating 1,000 barrels per day as the rate of the leak). The 5,000 barrels daily equates to 210,000 gallons daily, and is clearly far short of the independent estimates now offered by several scientists.
Most recently, Associate Professor Steve Wereley of Purdue University has predicted that 70,000 barrels of oil per day is much closer to the real number, and said he arrived at that number after spending two hours Thursday analyzing video of a spill using a technique called particle image velocimetry. He indicated that due to margins of error in the method used, the actual leak should be between 56,000 and 84,000 barrels daily.
"You can't say with precision, but you can see there's definitely more coming out of that pipe than people thought. It's definitely not 5,000 barrels a day," Wereley said.
According to CNN, "BP spokesman Mark Proegler said that the company stands by its 5,000 barrels per day estimate. He said the company reached that number using data, satellite images and consultation with the Coast Guard and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. But there is no way to calculate a definite amount, he said. 'We are focused on stopping the leak and not measuring it,' he said."
Well, do they have one or two scientists on staff, or can they fund a team of expert outside scientists, who can also look into the size of the leak, since that will certainly affect the type of response that BP and other responsible parties need to offer? Or is that asking too much of the oil giant and its partners? According to many reports, BP has had a far higher rate of serious oil drilling accident than its colleague companies, although there is good evidence that the CEO of the last three years, Tony Hayward, has been trying to move the company in a better direction; apparently that effort had not reached this oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico.
BP said on Thursday, May 13th that it would attempt to insert a new section of pipe into the riser of its damaged undersea well to capture the leaking oil. Meanwhile, every day there are sad revelations of the neglect visited upon all of us by the trio of BP, Halliburton, and Transocean. In hearings and in media statements, they are busily pointing fingers at each other, while it has become clear that pervasive neglect by all three in both drilling and in safety equipment management, over a period of years, is the only way to explain this disastrous loss of life and damage to the ecosphere.
Aside from the errors made while drilling the well, which led to the methane gas explosion on April 20th, the list of malfunctions on the blowout preventer, the device intended to quickly stop oil leaks when accidents occur, is shocking. These include a non-functioning battery (nobody bothered to check its voltage level until after the leak started), test equipment being used instead of live equipment, extra pipes being put in place that blocked a shear device meant to slide over a blowout, a control panel that had been rewired incorrectly, a long-term hydraulic fluid leak that weakened the potential response by the blowout preventer, and other failures in a system that has five levels of safety options, all of which have failed.
The oil leak started with a deadly explosion on April 20th, and certainly appears headed for a new world record oil spill, if it has not already reached that level based on the Purdue and other non-BP estimates of the leak. The southern shore of the United States is most immediately at risk, but due to the highly toxic nature of raw oil, the ocean itself may be feeling the effects of this series of blunders and calculated safety omissions, for a long, long time.
I am saddened by these events and appalled at the theme of corporate negligence and impunity. I can only hope that society as a whole and our government, all asleep at the switch, will now implement substantial consequences based on this tragic event, starting with a renewed ban on off-shore drilling and an increased and vigorous effort to develop domestic, renewable, and CLEAN energy sources. I also ask whether it is demanding too much of our government to make these three corporations and others that have responsibility, truly and financially, and perhaps criminally, feel their responsibility for what has happened and what will happen to the people and wildlife of the southern United States and to the planet as a whole.