Flow rate from BP oil spill many times higher than previously estimated

Update 6/15/10:  The estimate has been raised to 35,000-60,000 barrels (1.5 million to 2.5 million gallons) a day. 

The federal government has doubled the official estimate of the oil spewing from BP's damaged well head on the Gulf floor to 20,000 to 40,000 barrels per day.  That is many times the estimate a few weeks ago and exponentially more than the initial estimate calculated by the pictures of the disaster provided via government satellite.
A government panel on Thursday essentially doubled its estimate of how much oil has been spewing from the out-of-control BP well, with the new calculation suggesting that an amount equivalent to the Exxon Valdez disaster could be flowing into the Gulf of Mexico every 8 to 10 days.

A barrel is 42 gallons, so 30,000 barrels would equate to nearly 1.3 million gallons a day. The Exxon Valdez disaster in 1989 is estimated to have spilled 10.8 million gallons of oil into Prince William Sound in Alaska.

Ira Leifer, a researcher at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and a member of the flow-rate group, said the new figures confirmed a suspicion he had developed, based on looking at satellite data, that the rate of flow for the well was increasing even before BP cut the riser pipe.

"The situation is growing worse," Dr. Leifer said.
This dramatic change in estimate came about after it was discovered that BP had high resolution video of the Gulf floor they had chosen neither to release or to inform Congress or the Flow Rate Group of its existence.  It is expected, as the newly revealed high resolution video is studied by the Flow Rate Group scientist who've been brought together by the USGS, the estimates will continue to rise.

"I really wish BP would understand that having good numbers is in their interest, too," Dr. Leifer said on CNN, "because, so far, to date, they've been trying solution after solution, and they've been failing, one after another.  One of the reasons why is that no one really knows how much oil is coming out and so they have been playing dice that we won't have another catastrophe on our hands."

Dr. Leifer and the Flow Rate Group have requested to directly measure the flow rate with instruments.  BP has resisted that request.  When Dr. Leifer was asked if he knew why, his response was that he had "to assume that, after this many weeks, the reason underlying is that they [BP] don't want anyone to know what the numbers are."

There may be a financial incentive for BP to have taken this obstructive approach.  For every barrel of oil that is determined to have spilled, BP is liable, according to the clean water act, to over $4,000 in penalties.  There are additional penalties for damage to wildlife as well as impending litigation from fisherman, hotels, rig workers, whole cities that have lost tourism, in addition to the damage requiring cleanup and the potential dead zone that a significant portion of the Gulf of Mexico may become.

Dr. Leifer says the flow rate will likely go up significantly as they study the well.  He has also raised concerns that BP is not acting in a safe manner and that the Flow Rate Group needs to get access to the well to make sure the work on the relief wells does not result in an even greater problem down the line.

Congress has written BP insisting they give the Flow Rate Group direct access to the well so they can measure the flow rate directly.   

President Obama has
summoned BP's top officials, including their elusive chairman, Carl-Henric Svanberg, to come to the White House on Wednesday, June 16.

June 11 (Bloomberg) -- BP Plc Chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg is being summoned to Washington for a meeting with President Barack Obama as politicians step up pressure on the company to settle damage claims and suspend the dividend.

Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen, the government’s national incident commander, requested the June 16 meeting in a letter addressed to Svanberg at the company’s London headquarters yesterday. He asked for the chairman and other “appropriate” company representatives to meet with senior administration officials to discuss the company’s response to the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Allen said Obama will “participate in a portion” of the session.
A live video feed of all twelve cameras on the Gulf floor is available at this link: http://climate.the-environmentalist.org/2010/06/live-video-feeds-of-gulf-oil-disaster.html