Expert: Based on video, BP undersea volcano spewing 3 million gallons a day — two Exxon Valdezes a week

BP still channels Goldman Sachs: CEO says, “The Gulf of Mexico is a very big ocean. The amount of volume of oil and dispersant we are putting into it is tiny in relation to the total water volume.”

NPR’s Richard Harris has learned that much more oil, 70,000 barrels a day or more than ten times the official estimate, is gushing into the Gulf of Mexico from the Deepwater Horizon pipe, based on scientific analysis of the video released Wednesday.

That’s the equivalent of one Exxon Valdez tanker full every four days.

Some people weren’t sure about my earlier metaphor, “Time to stop calling the BP-Halliburton oil disaster a ‘leak’ or a ‘spill’ “” Try ‘an undersea volcano of oil’.”  But now it seems clear that even my May 1 post questioning the official “leak” rate — Oilpocalypse Now: WSJ reports BP oil disaster may be leaking at rate of 1 million gallons a day — was an understimate.

And it’s now as clear as unpolluted water exactly why BP suppressed for weeks the release of their video of the gusher:

BP knew that experts could roughly calculate the flow rate just from that image — although they can’t easily distinguish oil from gas and other things in the volcano.  That said, it appears most of this is oil, as reported in the story from NPR science correspondent Richard Harris.

Brad Johnson at TP summarizes the story and has followup:

Based on “sophisticated scientific analysis of seafloor video made available Wednesday,” Steve Wereley, an associate professor at Purdue University, told NPR the actual spill rate of the BP oil disaster is about 3 million gallons a day “” 15 times the official guess of BP and the federal government. Another scientific expert, Eugene Chiang, a professor of astrophysics at the University of California, Berkeley, calculated the rate of flow to be between 840,000 and four million gallons a day. These estimates mean that the Deepwater Horizon wreckage could have spilled about five times as much oil as the 12-million-gallon Exxon Valdez disaster….

In an email to ThinkProgress, Dr. Wereley clarifies: “My analysis is based strictly on what is seen in the video, so only one pipe and only for that brief period of time. I’m making no claims about what happened earlier or what may happen in the future.”

BP’s hubris and arrogance remain unchanged (see Is BP the Goldman Sachs of Big Oil? CEO Hayward says to fellow executives: “What the hell did we do to deserve this?”). TP notes:

On Tuesday, BP America president Lamar McKay testified under oath before the Senate that “you can’t measure what’s coming out at the seabed.”

But it is CEO Tony Hayward’s comments that boggle the mind.  The Guardian reports today:

In an bullish interview with the Guardian at BP’s crisis centre in Houston, Hayward insisted that the leaked oil and the estimated 400,000 gallons of dispersant that BP has pumped into the sea to try to tackle the slick should be put in context.

“The Gulf of Mexico is a very big ocean. The amount of volume of oil and dispersant we are putting into it is tiny in relation to the total water volume,” he said.

Yes, apparently even if it spewed all of the oil in the world into the ocean it still wouldn’t be a big deal to BP because the entire ocean is so vast.  Seriously.

For the record, BP’s dispersants are toxic “” but not as toxic as dispersed oil.

The interview ends with yet more hubris:

Hayward said it was “unwise” to speculate about the direct causes of the accident before investigations had been completed. “There is a lot of speculation, red herrings and hearsay.” He also admitted that BP had made mistakes in its early response to the crisis. It initially refused to compensate fishermen who were unable to produce written proof of their normal earnings. Most keep no such records.

He also said BP had made a mistake when fishermen signing up to help with the relief effort were required to sign agreements limiting their receipt of any future damages from BP.

“It was a bit bumpy to get it going. We made a few little mistakes early on.”

Yeah, BP made a few little mistakes:

36 Responses to Expert: Based on video, BP undersea volcano spewing 3 million gallons a day — two Exxon Valdezes a week

  1. Raul M. says:

    Maybe, multiple bouye type wicks that gather and let burn the oil
    would burn cleaner than the rig burnt.

  2. prokaryote says:

    The science of dispersants

    Massive use of surfactant chemicals turns Gulf of Mexico into a giant experiment.

  3. Jeff Huggins says:

    Yes, it’s important to keep in mind context.

    By the way, there’s a very interesting article in the latest issue of Harvard Business Review (May 2010).

    The article is titled “Powerful People Are Better Liars”. (Yes, you read that correctly.)

    It’s about a rather amazing, but not surprising, piece of research done by Dana Carney at the Columbia University Graduate School of Business.

    To be clear, the research doesn’t explore whether people who lie are more likely to get into powerful positions. Nor does the research say that all powerful people are liars or that they frequently lie, of course. Instead, it finds that people in positions of power are often better liars and that it’s harder (in some cases, nearly impossible) to detect their lies.

    Why? Because, the research suggests, people in powerful positions (and it’s important to keep in mind: power depends on context and is a relative thing) often feel confident enough, or perhaps far enough beyond reproach, or perhaps “strong” enough, that their bodies often don’t show the standard tell-tale signs that most other people show when they are lying about important things. In other words, someone in a position that is not powerful, when lying to you, is much more likely to feel uncomfortable and show at least some of the tell-tale signs, to a degree anyhow. But, when a person is in a position of power, she/he is more likely to feel comfortable, or at least less uncomfortable, when lying, and thus her/his body and voice don’t show the tell-tale signs of lying. All in all, when that happens, you can’t tell that they are lying. They may come across as very comfortable, calm, and convincing, even when telling a whopper!

    Anyhow, it’s usually not a good idea to try to summarize someone else’s research, so you should read the article itself, if interested. It sounds like a very interesting piece of research. The main downside is that HBR is one of the most expensive magazines around: $16.95.



  4. Let’s hope these new numbers are very, very wrong.

    But isn’t there some “bounding” that makes the 70,000 bbl/day number unlikely?

    For instance, Thunder Horse produces 250,000 bbl/day from 7 wells. Maybe I am just looking at this with a hopeful bias, because it’s terrifying to think what the damages might be at these higher flow rates. But wouldn’t there be some sensible limits as to how bad things could be? And wouldn’t BP be in a position to get this right at least within +/- 5,000 barrels?

    Crossing my fingers,

  5. mike roddy says:

    The press needs to put Congress’ feet to the fire on removing the $75 million liability limit, which is obviously a pittance. That will take the grin off Hayward’s face for his bizarre media appearances.

    It will be very interesting to see the public statements from Congressmen who oppose removing this limit, and they should be targeted relentlessly in their next reelection attempts. Remember the Dirty Dozen Congressmen environmental campaign a few decades ago, which resulted in most of them being defeated? These same NGO’s appear to have lost their bite, but that kind of attitude needs to be revived.

    In the Code of Hammurabai, engineers who designed buildings whose collapse resulted in death were executed. The least we can do for the Gulf erupution and the Massey explosion is to order proportionate fines, preferably followed by criminal prosecution for negligence.

  6. David Smith says:

    There is an article @ Huff indicating that a large number of drilling permits issued in the last 10 years were issued without full legal approval. The link on the site doesnt seem to be working right now. It specifically mentions 346 gulf drilling permits and other work. Isnt this a big deal? Doesnt this make the not-permitted work illegal?

  7. Karen S. says:

    Enron’s criminal prosecution for its misdeeds is beginning to sound small in comparison with the harm being wrought for generations of residents of the Gulf Coast by this oil gusher. The statement by BP’s CEO shows contempt and woeful ignorance for the people and their livelihoods, for the ecology of the region, for the science that brings us understanding of it, and frankly, for everyone but BP shareholders. He knows what’s going to happen to that ocean, because he knows there’s not much chance of stopping the hemmorhaging any time soon. BP is offering prizes for bright ideas from anyone. Who are they kidding? If the medical community tried that we’d all be apoplectic.

    What BP hasn’t told us and no media persist in asking, is how much oil is in that formation. How much more is to come? Perhaps the CEO is going to issue a statement after 3 months of unabated oil gushing and say, “Folks, the oil volume equals the ocean volume. NOW we have a problem.” Perhaps the fact that proposed legislation to increase the liability cap for oil spills from $75 million to $10 billion was defeated yesterday by Senator Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, is affecting what BP is willing to say until safely insulated from liability exceeding a slap on the wrist. Murkowski has received over $300,000 in campaign contributions from the oil industry. We are witnessing the death of an entire ocean–its ecological and economic ecosystems–no oil corporation is going to accept the responsibility for that when they can buy their way out for a mere $300k. And they call this a democracy.

  8. PurpleOzone says:

    The NYTimes is reporting today that government scientists are set to take equipment to measure the flow. However they haven’t been sent.

    If BP doesn’t know and can’t measure it, they should certainly have the information in order to seal the leaks. (pressure, volume, etc.)

    If BP does know and hasn’t told us, all the more reason the U.S. government should find out. It’s not just BP’s business.

    I also agree with Karen, #8, about the size of the oil reservoir.

  9. Mark says:

    Karen S. #8 – Do you have a link showing which Senators voted for and against increasing the oil company’s liability?

  10. jcwwrc says:

    I was reading the history of multiple fines and citations that the EPA and OSHA imposed on BP for failure to comply with safety citations. I would assume they view this as a cost of doing business. What I don’t understand is why BP operations aren’t shut down until violations are fixed? Obviously the fines aren’t working.

  11. WastedEnergy says:

    The sheer arrogance is unfathomable.

  12. Peter Bellin says:

    Chris Dudley’s comment is not substantive, and deserves to be removed.

    My thought about the size of the gusher is that if the leak rate is very high, at what point will the resource be depleted enough to slow the leak on its own? The estimated size of the resource is (if I remember correctly) 55 million barrels. That is 2.3 billion gallons. That would mean, at a rate of 3 million barrels per day, the gusher would have no more oil in 770 days. Clearly, at some point the underground pressure would be reduced enough to slow the rate of leakage.

    Unfortunately, that would leave the bulk of the oil from the resource in the ocean. Perhaps BP can then suction up the pools of oil/sea water and refine that.

    I feel like a science fiction writer in imagining this scenario.

  13. Mike Russell says:

    In 1979, Mexico’s Ixtoc I in the western Gulf blew out and spewed about 420,000 gallons of oil a day for nine months. Large quantities of oil did not reach Texas beaches.

    “This was a problem we ran into with Ixtoc, we never found the oil,” McKinney said. “But I think even today if you dig down in some sandy beaches you can find a layer of Ixtoc oil.”
    We are shifting from oil based coatings because of VOC’s. 35% of this crude evaporates. Algae will eat some and some is burned up or gathered

  14. daniel smith says:

    This is a bit tangential to the main thread, but I think the references to arrogance and hubris that pop up frequently here are a serious distraction and reinforce the misguided personalization of these things. I’m not for a second saying these guys aren’t irresponsible jerks, and etc. But what is consistently missed is the fact that this behavior and this mentality are generated by, bred by, constantly reinforced by the system. If BP or any other publicly held corporation doesn’t do everything it can to maximize it’s profits…it loses. I don’t mean they may not tweak their behavior a bit around the edges (especially if it improves public image), but in the bigger picture, their behavior is predictable and, for the most part, very rational and necessary in the context within which they operate. This is what capitalism (certainly in current form, perhaps inevitably) gives us. (And, no, it doesn’t just give us this with the oil business. The exploitation and risk may be more subtle in other sectors, but they’re still there if you look beneath the propaganda we are bathed in.) The people who don’t get with the picture never get to the top, and anyone at the top who wakes up to the structural, systemic immorality, will be out on his keister. Now, I realize that the rhetoric about personal qualities may be necessary, in some instances, to get some mileage out of this sort of thing, but it’s important to remember that it also is a distraction in a larger sense, one that prevents us from dealing with the larger systemic problems that, like clockwork, come back and bite us in the ass after we’ve gotten past the latest disaster spectacle. The oil blowout is actually a good image in this sense, much like the whack-a-mole analogy that was often applied to Iraq a few years ago. Oh, no, an oil spill! Phew, we got that one capped and cleaned up. Oh, no: another! Quick, run over and deal with that one. Maybe if we’re really lucky (once this disaster becomes truly monumental and people “get it”) we’ll get the oil industry under control. Unless we pay attention to the systemic nature of the problem, as long as our vision is drawn only to these spectacles, that just provides cover for all the other crap going down elsewhere. And on and on it goes. This behavior, as bad as it is, is constantly required and reinforced in a system where capital trumps democracy.

    By the way, I do realize that climate change is potentially bad enough that it might be necessary to put the systemic stuff on the back burner. It may be like whack-a-mole, but if one mole is the mother of all moles, well, you gotta whack it however you can. I’m just not convinced it’s an either/or proposition. I’m actually not certain, and I don’t think we can get beyond the uncertainty unless these things are on the table. I know we’re not supposed to express a lack of certainty in this advocacy world, but there it is…

  15. unreal2r says:

    It’s taken a while, but, with the help of our British allies and able assistance of our friends at Halliburton, we finally found where the Weapons of Mass Destruction are buried.

  16. knoxkp says:

    I’ve taken to calling this the BP Valdez – drunk on hubris and thooughtlessness and arrogance the people are. This is criminal. Since corps are now officially people they should be booked for negligent homicide and the wanton destruction of people’s livelihoods and numerous vital and fragile ecosystems. Would like to see them sued & brought into non-existence by this time next year.

    The monies could be used to pay for the real costs of compensating all those harmed and it would serve as a warning to all other corps.

  17. Bill W says:

    Love this quote from the NYT story that David Smith linked above:

    ‘Responding to the accusations that agency scientists were being silenced, Ms. Barkoff added, “Under the previous administration, there was a pattern of suppressing science in decisions, and we are working very hard to change the culture and empower scientists in the Department of the Interior.” ‘

    Apparently they aren’t working hard enough at it.

  18. dhogaza says:

    Chris Dudley’s comment is not substantive, and deserves to be removed.

    I agree.

  19. prokaryote says:

    Obama Vows End to ‘Cozy’ Oversight of Oil Industry

    WASHINGTON — President Obama angrily denounced the finger-pointing among the three companies involved in the Gulf of Mexico oil spill as a “ridiculous spectacle,” and vowed on Friday to end what he called the “cozy relationship” between the government and the oil industry that has existed for a decade or more.

  20. hisnamewas says:

    Shouldn’t you know the flow rate of the gusher to be able to fit these capping devices to stop the leak? I mean to say you can’t measure flow is ridiculous…either they are just shooting in the dark with fitting these devices or they actually know how much is spilling and they refuse to tell us…

  21. mark says:

    “President Obama angrily denounced the finger-pointing among the three companies involved in the Gulf of Mexico oil spill as a “ridiculous spectacle,” and vowed on Friday to end what he called the “cozy relationship” between the government and the oil industry that has existed for a decade or more.”

    Thanks very much for posting this, finally some righteous anger from this man. we already know that he can get what he wants done when he decides to take action. In fact, he’s very good at it.

    And is it not time, to take this out of BP’S hands?

    It quite clearly appears to be beyond their capacity to deal with this.

    Bring in someone who has the knowledge, the equipment, and the desire to stop the voilcano.


    I finally coined a word for this.

  22. Leif says:

    The amount of oil and dispersant in the gulf is minimal to total volume… Quite true. It is likewise true that the amount of arsenic, anthrax, or even LSD added to the human body is minimal and yet we have laws. The amount of added CO2 in the atmosphere is minimal yet the down stream effects are obvious to science and others that take the time to look. On the other hand the effects on all the life forms within the thousands of square miles currently affected on the Gulf is not minimal, it is DEATH.

  23. prokaryote says:

    U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu signaled his lack of confidence in the industry experts trying to control BP Plc’s leaking oil well by hand-picking a team of scientists with reputations for creative problem solving.

  24. catman306 says:

    Leif: Not EVERY living creature in oil zone will die. The most hardy species will come in at the bottom floor of an entirely new ecosystem, one that we wouldn’t recognize and can’t predict. They will be the ancestors of the key species that will quickly evolve. Life goes on. But humans will call this a huge oily dead zone to be avoided if possible.

  25. Chris Dudley says:

    In response to Peter (#14),

    Bribery of MSHA officials seems to be under investigation now:

    So there is a potentially substantial issue there. There is also a history of bribery at MMS which Joe has discussed. There are many historic examples where official corruption kills, though drawing the connection precisely is sometimes hard. Are you upset because it may be happening under an administration you favor? If anything, for me, that would make it worse, a dwindling of hope….

  26. Leif says:

    You are right catman 360, # 25. Perhaps “all the higher life forms” would have been a better choice of words.

    Is there such a thing as PTS for environmentalists? I am not sure how much more of these assaults to the senses I can take without stepping off the deep end.

  27. mike roddy says:

    catman306, the species that quickly evolve to replace destroyed food chains in the Gulf will be simple invertebrates like jellyfish. Fecund ecosystems with complex relationships and highly developed apex predators take millions of years to develop.

    The Gulf ecosystem is worth more than the net worth of all of the oil companies combined, since the devastation will remain long after we run out of oil. Executives from BP, Halliburton, and Transocean need to face criminal prosecution, and their stockholders and bank financiers deserve ruin.

    It’s too easy to focus on BP and the other two currently under the microscope, however. Exxon specializes in destroying fragile arctic ecosystems, while Chevron prefers to ravage South American and African rainforests. The wealthy but sterile lives that are their rewards- complete with climate controlled mansions, huge cars, and socializing at charity functions- are fraudulent.

  28. Bob Wright says:

    Caught a bit of an interview on NPR the other day. Don’t remember the names. Apparently Exxon (and others) maintains its own parallel staff of experts for drilling technology and operations, and thoroughly reviews and oversees its contractors. BP in its haste for quick bucks just turns it all over to the contractors AND pushes them to cut corners.

  29. Michael T says:

    Off Topic but still worth noting:

    NASA GISS global temperature analysis shows April 2010 is the warmest April on record:

    Averaged over the first four months of the year, the January-April 2010 period is now the warmest January-April on record:

  30. Adrian says:

    BP and the others certainly deserve blame, and they certainly deserve, in my opinion, criminal prosecution. (Why is it, if a corporation is an individual you can’t arrest it, try it, and shut it down for criminal negligence?) The corporate chiefs have certainly shown themselves to be cowardly in their arrogance. I share others’ deep anger.

    But as I get in my car to go home this evening, which I drive because there’s no good mass transit; as I look around me at all the other people driving cars in the rush hour traffic; as I listen to ads on the radio for consumer items made of petrochemicals that we don’t really need; as after the ads the financial news comes on, stating that investors are concerned because a depressed US market for oil has driven prices down which is bad for the global economy–then I will wonder–isn’t it all of us? All of us who rely on the lifestyle that oil gives us?

    It’s easy, and extremely human, to demonize “the other,” in this case large corporations, and that makes it easy to absolve ourselves of any responsibility we may have in the ongoing ecological catastrophe that forms the backdrop of our times. But really, won’t there continue to be risky drilling and disasters and government/oil company collusion and ecological wreckage until enough of the American public says “enough!”?

    We give these corporations their power. Who among us is willing to give up what we would have to give up to truly see the oil companies reduced and humbled?

    It grieves me to point this out.

  31. Earthfire says:

    Earth: A place to live, if you follow some simple rules

    Earth to OilDrillersforProfit: You’d better get it right, or else

    Earth Dwellers to Oil Drillers: You got it wrong, and you’ve hurt us, badly

    Oil Drillers to Earth Dwellers: F-You, we have the GOP on our side.

    GOP to Earth: Please take care of me when I’m old, gray, and infirm.

    Earth to GOP: What Cheney said to Leahy.

  32. Chris Dudley says:

    I would add to my #27 that President Obama seems somewhat open to the idea that there has been corruption in the MMS under his administration though he is using the euphemism ‘cozy’ so far. I hope AG Holder is in very much in the loop at this point and is directing Justice Department resources towards further investigating the MMS. Perhaps there is room to hope that government will be cleaned up a little this time around.,1085/

  33. Ani says:

    Next the CEO can say that the gulf coast states are just a small portion of total land surface its no big deal if their economies are ruined. Since they had so many safety violations the CEO should be charged with manslaughter as a minimum.

  34. Next time I get pulled over for drunk driving I’ll say my blood alcohol level is tiny in relation to the total water volume in my body.

    (If I were BP’s CEO anyway).

  35. Tim Remple says:

    I noted in today’s testimony before the Environment Committee, Ken Salazar used kind of similar terminology, refering to statements made by the witness on 60 Minutes, which was referenced in the context of the line of questions and responses, as “anicdotes.”

    (pretty sure I got the exact word there correct; I was stunned, though maybe I shouldn’t be …)

    I was also amazed a couple of times to hear him say words to the effect of, “we relied on what BP to told us.” Another time, he said essentially, “ask BP, we don’t know.”

    Kind of amazing to think of BP as driving, and the administration as relying on what they were told.

    But when you help them keep videos of the spill from the public for three weeks — — well, I guess that indicates where you stand …