BP live feed doesn't lie: Is BP oil spill plume worse than before?
BP says it's capturing the 'majority' of oil from the Macondo wellhead after placing a 'top cap' siphon on it last week. Yet judging by the size of the plume on the BP live feed, some fear the BP oil spill is even worse after the operation than before.
(Page 2 of 2)
At the higher end of government estimates, nearly 40 million gallons of oil have escaped, four times that of the Exxon Valdez. BP could incur fines of up to $4,800 per barrel of oil that's escaped. BP says it simply does not know the true extent of the leaking oil. "How much that is, we'd all love to know," Kent Wells, a BP executive, told reporters Monday. "It's really difficult to tell."Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
The company has an obligation to come up with a firm flow-rate number, says Rep. Edward Markey (D) of Massachusetts, a sharp critic of BP throughout the spill. "At this time, BP appears to know how much oil is being captured, which is encouraging," he wrote in a letter to BP Tuesday. "Yet BP still does not appear to know precisely how much oil is actually escaping, which is discouraging."
Estimating the size of the spill at the source instead of as it approaches the shore, Representative Markey says, "is critical, not only in terms of the efficacy of the temporary cap solution, but also in terms of the size and extent of the needed spill response and the ultimate effects on the environment."
BP has learned lessons from earlier attempts to capture the oil, and moved cautiously over the weekend in shutting several valves and manifolds to reduce the escaping oil, calibrating so as not to build up pressure that could blow the device off or allow water to enter the siphoned oil, which could lead to the kind of build up of methane crystals that thwarted an earlier attempt to put a larger cofferdam over the wellhead. There are also questions about the availability of enough processing capacity at the surface to hold the siphoned crude.
Concerns about the real effect of the top-cap procedure put into sharp relief the difficult work being done by the FRTG, which was convened to study the extent of the plume.
If some 14,000 barrels per day is being siphoned off the current geyser, it could throw that group's preliminary estimates of up to 19,000 barrels a day into question, as well. The committee expects to issue a new estimate later this week, but it wasn't clear Tuesday whether that estimate would include the post-top-cap situation.
The backdrop is that a subgroup of the FRTG has not been able to determine an upper range for the flow estimate.
The analysis done has used satellite maps and high-definition images of the spurting oil itself to estimate the rate of flow. Leifer, the flow-rate group member, says BP has been stonewalling attempts to get more accurate images of the plume to analyze. Allen said last week that all his requests to BP chief Tony Hayward have been honored quickly.
The lack of a "downhole" sensing device to accurately measure the flow has unduly complicated spill mathematics, says Elgie Holstein, a former Department of Energy chief of staff and currently an oil-spill expert at the Environmental Defense Fund in Washington.
"This is a bit like watching some sort of grainy crime video from a 7-Eleven robbery," he says. "People have been treating this as though it's some exotic science, but the problem is we have to engage in all these mathematical gymnastics when the basic monitoring devices aren't available to us."
- Gulf oil spill: Louisiana's berm plan bold but full of uncertainty
- As BP oil spill spreads, 1,500 fishing boats to aid relief
- The Gulf oil spill muddle: when oil nears shore, confusion begins