Gulf oil spill: The story so far
The effort to contain the Gulf oil spill has had more twists and turns than a mystery novel. This rundown of events so far also shows what is ahead in the struggle to clean up the Gulf of Mexico.
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A decision on whether to stick with the containment cap or to shift to the overshot tool will be made in early July, said Adm. Allen.Skip to next paragraph
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What are the flow-rate estimates?
Four days after the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded, there was a mounting sense that the disaster was not finished. Some 1,000 barrels of oil a day could be leaking into the Gulf, news reports suggested.
Fifty-two days later, scientists hazarded a different guess as to how many barrels of oil were leaking into the Gulf daily: 35,000 to 60,000.
What happened? Put simply, BP had little incentive to revise early estimates – even when it became obvious that they were grossly incorrect – and, eventually, the government stopped trusting them.
The 1,000-barrels-per-day estimate actually survived for only a few days. The estimate that followed – 5,000 barrels a day – remained the official figure for nearly a month. It was based on evidence collected at the surface by the Coast Guard and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
But when underwater video of the gusher became available, it was immediately apparent to independent scientists that that number was fanciful in its understatement. The range they suggested: anywhere from 20,000 barrels a day to 100,000.
BP, for its part, didn't budge. "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," a BP spokesman told The New York Times.
The federal government, sensing BP's unwillingness to investigate a subject that could harm it both legally and in the arena of public opinion, convened a flow-rate panel on May 20.
Over time, the panel has refined its estimate as more data have become available. It began with a range of 12,000 to 19,000 barrels a day on May 27, then increased that to 20,000 to 40,000 barrels a day on June 11.
When BP fitted the containment cap, the panel could compare what it saw with the amount that BP was capturing, giving it a statistical base line. On June 15, the panel came out with the 35,000 to 60,000 estimate.
On June 18, Allen said he believed that 35,000 barrels was closer to the real number.
What has the government done?
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar neatly summed up the Obama administration's take on its own responsibilities in the Gulf oil spill when he said the government's job was to "keep the boot on the neck" of BP.
Incapable of taking over from BP at the wellhead and unwilling to displace the web of contractors leading the cleanup at BP's behest, the administration has taken on the role of foreman on the Gulf relief shift.
Sometimes it has forced BP's hand – as when it pushed BP to speed up containment efforts at the well. Sometimes, it has been ignored – as when BP refused to switch to a more effective and less toxic dispersant.
On June 16, President Obama forced BP's hand in a different way: The administration established a $20 billion escrow account – funded by BP – from which all damage claims are to be paid. The account will be managed by Kenneth Feinberg, who ran the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund.
The Obama administration has also made several broader decisions in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon blowout.