Gulf Oil Spill Estimates May Be Off By Over A Factor Of Ten
NPR received a tape from BP showing video of the oil spill in the Gulf and consulted several experts in the field about the rate of oil spilling from the pipe. There were three scientists. Using three different methods. And they all came up with the same result: the official estimate of 5,000 barrels a day is off by a factor of ten. At least.
Steven Wereley, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at Purdue University, analyzed videotape of the seafloor gusher using a technique called particle image velocimetry.
A computer program simply tracks particles and calculates how fast they are moving. Wereley put the BP video of the gusher into his computer. He made a few simple calculations and came up with an astonishing value for the rate of the oil spill: 70,000 barrels a day — much higher than the official estimate of 5,000 barrels a day.
The method is accurate to a degree of plus or minus 20 percent.
Given that uncertainty, the amount of material spewing from the pipe could range from 56,000 barrels to 84,000 barrels a day. It is important to note that it’s not all oil. The short video BP released starts out with a shot of methane, but at the end it seems to be mostly oil.
If this is true, the oil spill in the Gulf already exceeds the Exxon Valdez disaster several times over. Combine this with the fact that BP has elected to use one-third of the world’s supply of known toxic chemicals to disperse the oil with very little oversight and we may actually be looking at the single biggest environmental catastrophe in U.S. history. The ecosystem of the Gulf of Mexico was already in a very fragile state, thanks to fertilizer runoff from the Mississippi river which has created a dead zone the size of New Jersey near the coast. The combination of the dead zone, oil and dispersants creates conditions that have the potential to wipe out most of the species there. That means goodbye fisheries. Goodbye oyster harvests. Goodbye shrimp catches. Maybe not. Hopefully not. But given that it might be a month or more before the pipe is shut off this is a very real possibility.
And the most damning thing of all is the complete lack of oversight over the safety systems that were supposed to prevent this from happening in the first place.
A House energy panel investigation has found that the blowout preventer that failed to stop a huge oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico had a dead battery in its control pod, leaks in its hydraulic system, a “useless” test version of a key component and a cutting tool that wasn’t strong enough to shear through steel joints in the well pipe and stop the flow of oil.
Absolutely mind boggling.