How Much Oil Is Leaking In The Gulf Of Mexico Spill?

I wrote in The Kelly Letter yesterday:

The initial US Coast Guard estimate that the BP oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico is gushing 5,000 barrels of oil into the sea per day may be conservative. New analysis of video footage of the leak by scientists and environmental groups found that the rate is between 70,000 and 100,000 barrels per day, which would make the disaster worse than the Exxon Valdez spill. Ethics charges are already cropping up, with evidence suggesting that the Minerals Management Service granted oil companies drilling permission in the Gulf before gathering permits from an agency in charge of assessing threats to wildlife, and pressured its internal staff to edit findings that predicted an accident was likely. No doubt such moves were handsomely rewarded and such connections may surface soon.

Subscriber Charlie Redmond, who works in the oil industry, replied:

I’m dubious of the “analysis of video footage of the leak by scientists and environmental groups found that the rate is between 70,000 and 100,000 barrels per day” comment. BP’s best well in the Gulf (K002 well (API #608174094702)) had an initial production of 16,440 barrels/day. If the leaking well is indeed making even 70,000 BOPD then it is better than the best well by a factor of 4.

Yet, NPR’s Morning Edition ran the following last Friday:

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.

“There’s potentially some fluctuation back and forth between methane and oil,” Wereley said.

But assuming that the lion’s share of the material coming out of the pipe is oil, Wereley’s calculations show that the official estimates are too low.

“We’re talking more than a factor-of-10 difference between what I calculate and the number that’s being thrown around,” he said.

Early this morning, Bloomberg ran this:

Scientists working on the research ship Pelican, a mission backed by the Obama administration, found submerged pools of oil-contaminated water in the Gulf of Mexico as big as 10 miles long, 3 miles wide and 300 feet thick in some parts, according to Samantha Joye, a researcher at the University of Georgia who is part of the group gathering details about the spill.

The findings raise more questions about BP’s estimate that the oil flow stands at 5,000 barrels a day.

“It’s clear I think now that this leak is a lot bigger,” Joye said in an interview today. “There’s much more material flowing out of this pipe than was previously expected or accepted.”

While the exact rate of the leak isn’t known yet, the spirit of what I ran in the letter yesterday pointing out that it’s a lot higher than initially estimated, looks to have been correct. If anybody has more reliable sources or insight, please post details in a comment.

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  1. dhanujaya naik
    Posted April 26, 2011 at 8:16 pm | Permalink

    one of the most disastrous event……fuel and chemical companies should make up their mind to solve these problems as early as effect every living thing.BHOPAL GAS TRAGEDY which happened in 1986 [India] leaked methyl ISO cyan-ate killing thousands……..initial steps should be done immediately………post few videos and information….

  2. kelly ditsworth
    Posted June 15, 2010 at 6:43 am | Permalink

    What is the largest single oilwell in the world today? The know bopd it produces? the largest I could find was in the Phillipines and is producing just under 19,000 bopd.

  3. Marilyn
    Posted May 18, 2010 at 7:20 am | Permalink

    I live in MS and understand that the reefs and wild life is threatened all too well. If there are indeed submerged pockets of oil 300 ft deep, you would think that BP or the scientists that have discovered the problem, would put another tube into the mass and siphon the oil into waiting tankers. This seems to be working somewhat with the main leak. It seems to me that the people with the pull re: the scientists would be hammering BP or the Obama admin. for that to be done. Also, Kevin Costner has an invention that he has backed for the last fifteen years that takes the oil right out of the water and separates it into two separate entities. CNN interviewed him and the local news had him on the tube but no one has said ANYTHING about actually using that method of controlling the spill. Makes one wonder if there are differing motives at work doesn’t it?

    • Posted May 18, 2010 at 9:35 am | Permalink

      Yes, it does make one wonder. Reading the news is so much about reading what’s not in the news, though I can’t help but think that everybody’s interests should be aligned in this case to stop the leak and get the spill cleaned up.

  4. George Collins
    Posted May 17, 2010 at 10:15 pm | Permalink

    There seem to be few “hard” estimates of the volume of oil leakage and few new reports since the 14th.

    The National Resources Deffense Council Blog is giving substantial ongoing reportages to these issues, including some videos. See link below

    George Collins

    • Posted May 18, 2010 at 9:39 am | Permalink

      Thanks for the link, George. The video and photo collections are informative, however depressing it is to peruse them.

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