BP and Obama administration officials have repeatedly downplayed the extent of the growing oil disaster in the Gulf, arguing that attempts to accurately measure the rate of flow at the seabed are impossible and unnecessary:
Jane Lubchenco, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Administrator: “Simply observing where the oil is coming out is insufficient to really calculate any flow rate with any degree of accuracy.” [White House briefing, 4/29/10]
Lamar McKay, President of BP America: “The volume estimates are based effectively on surface expression, because you can’t measure what’s coming out at the seabed.” [Senate testimony, 5/12/10]
Tom Mueller, BP: “We’re not going to take any extra efforts now to calculate flow there at this point. It’s not relevant to the response effort, and it might even detract from the response effort.” [5/14/10]
Doug Suttles, BP COO, Global Exploration: Since the beginning, we’ve said it’s almost impossible to get a precise number. But ourselves and people from NOAA and others believe that something around 5,000 — it’s actually barrels a day — is the best estimate.” [ABC News, 5/14/10]
Rear Adm. Mary Landry, U.S. Coast Guard: “If the well let go, the design engineers will tell you that it could be approximately 55,000 barrels per day. We don’t think we have that much, because we’ve got satellite imagery; we know what we’re responding to. We know how much we’re seeing on the surface; we can estimate that. So the upward bound of worst case could be approximately 55,000 barrels.” [Blogger call, 5/17/10]
Since April 29, the joint BP-federal command has relied on an estimate from NOAA scientists that the oil rate was increasing by 210,000 gallons (5000 barrels) a day, even though on April 27, independent scientists looking at the same satellite imagery estimated the flow rate was at least 850,000 gallons a day. Without explanation, the administration allowed BP to block scientists from observing the disaster and to suppress video feeds of the spewing oil.
On Wednesday, May 19, Purdue engineering professor Steve Wereley testified before the House Energy and Environment Subcommittee that the statements made by BP and administration officials are false:
There are two statements in the media that I’d like to take issue with and I think that many scientists take issue with. The first is that this leak can’t be measured, and the second is that it doesn’t need to be measured.
I think there’s no — I don’t see any possibility, any scenario in which their number is accurate. I could see potential scenarios in which our numbers could come down, particularly based on the gas to oil ratio. But from what I see in the videos, I don’t see the numbers coming down that significantly.
95,000 [barrels per day] is the baseline. That’s the expected value, there’s an error bound around that, which I put at about 20 percent. So it could be considerably lower, roughly something short of 70,000, up to somewhere around 115,000. I’m definitely happy with saying that it’s fully an order of magnitude higher than what BP projects, without question.
Surface analysis by Dr. Ian McDonald and Dr. John Amos, and subsea video analyis by Dr. Eugene Chang, Dr. Timothy Crone, and Dr. Steve Wereley all indicate the apocalyptic oil spill is growing at a rate between 840,000 gallons to 4,200,000 gallons a day. The surface analysis is clearly a lower bound, as an unknown percentage of the oil is remaining below the surface in the form of toxic plumes hundreds of miles long. Over ten Exxon Valdezes worth of oil may have flooded the Gulf of Mexico already.
There is not, as Dr. Wereley testified, “any possibility” that the BP-NOAA “best estimate” is accurate.
Famed oceanographer Sylvia Earle says:
It seems baffling that we don’t know how much oil is being spilled. It seems baffling that we don’t know where the oil is in the water column.