The estimates of oil escaping were far too low. At first it was, "we dodged a bullet." Then, it was 1,000 barrels a day. Then, 5,000. And now, 25,000 barrels a day are flowing from the ocean floor. The Wall Street Journal has been excellent in its reporting:
The Gulf of Mexico oil spill could be leaking at a rate of 25,000 barrels a day, five times the government’s current estimate, industry experts say.
Basing their calculations on government data and standard industry measurement tools, the experts said the Gulf spill may already rival the historic 1969 Santa Barbara, Calif., and 1989 Exxon Valdez disasters.
Ian MacDonald, professor of oceanography at Florida State University who specializes in tracking ocean oil seeps from satellite imagery, said there may already be more than 9 million gallons of oil floating in the Gulf now, based on his estimate of a 25,000 barrel-a-day leak rate. That’s compared to 12 million gallons spilled in the Valdez accident.
Interior Department officials said it may take 90 days to cap the leaking well. If the 25,000 barrels a day is accurate and it leaks for 90 days, that’s 2.25 million barrels or 94.5 million gallons.
Mr. MacDonald and his colleagues at the Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Science Department have worked jointly with National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the past on oil spill tracking, and have shared their estimates with NOAA scientists. He said the NOAA scientists didn’t dispute the calculations.
A NOAA spokeswoman said the government estimate of 5,000 barrels a day leaking from the BP PLC deep sea well was based on collaborative assessments produced by BP, NOAA and the U.S. Coast Guard. NOAA scientists weren’t immediately available to comment.
The 5,000-barrel figure was first announced late Wednesday and marked a five-fold increase from the previous estimate. News of the higher estimate ratcheted up the pressure on officials to take more-aggressive steps to contain the spill and heightened concerns about potential environmental damage and disruption to the Gulf Coast economy.
Climate Now called this an Oilpocalypse Now! That blog provides a detailed report on the serious issues confronting Gulf Coast states.
In Safety Device Questioned in ’04, the Wall Street Journal also noted that safety devices could have been better:
Some newer rigs have blowout preventers with two separate pairs of shear rams—providing an added safeguard in case one shear malfunctions or hits an obstruction in the pipe. The Deepwater Horizon had a single pair of shear rams.
The Interior Department’s Minerals Management Service, which regulates offshore drilling, questioned whether shear rams were strong enough to shear through a pipe.
In two offshore incidents in 2001, the rams didn’t work as expected. The agency issued new rules in 2003 instructing the oil industry to make sure the rams would work reliably.
In 2004, a study commissioned by the MMS raised significant questions about the ability of rams to cut through the stronger pipes used in deep-water drilling. Those thicker pipes—as well as the shear rams—must withstand the enormous pressures found at 5,000 feet below sea level.
The study noted there was no agreement on how to determine if the sheer rams would work properly in deep-water conditions. Only three of 14 newly build rigs had blowout preventers that were able to squeeze off and cut the pipe at the water pressure likely to be experienced at the equipment’s maximum water depth, the study noted. (emphasis added)
I will be flying over the Gulf of Mexico to Galveston on Hurricane Ike litigation matters as many are reading this post. I am certain that the spill will be even more unbelievable to see than this past Thursday when I last flew over the disaster. The Gulf Coast needs a reprieve from these heartbreaks. The recent post in Slabbed, “We interrupt this interruption of our regularly scheduled disaster blogging to report that levees have failed above Memphis” – said the Editilla this soggy Sunday morning, is sadly accurate of what we have been experiencing lately.