BP Well May Be Spewing 100,000 Barrels a Day, Scientist Says

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McClatchy Newspapers

BP Well May Be Spewing 100,000 Barrels a Day, Scientist Says

by
Renee Schoof and Erika Bolstad

BP's runaway Deepwater Horizon well may be spewing what the company once-called its worst case scenario — 100,000 barrels a day, a member of the government panel told McClatchy Monday. (McClatchy)

WASHINGTON — BP's runaway Deepwater Horizon well may be spewing
what the company once-called its worst case scenario — 100,000 barrels
a day, a member of the government panel told McClatchy Monday.

"In the data I've seen, there's nothing
inconsistent with BP's worst case scenario," Ira Leifer, an associate
researcher at the Marine Science Institute of the University of
California, Santa Barbara, and a member of the government's Flow Rate
Technical Group, told McClatchy.

Leifer said that based on satellite data he's examined, the rate of
flow from the well has been increasing over time, especially since BP's
"top kill" effort failed last month to stanch the flow. The decision
last week to sever the well's damaged riser pipe from the its blowout
preventer in order to install a "top hat" containment device has
increased the flow still more - far more, Leifer said, than the 20
percent that BP and the Obama administration predicted.

Leifer noted that BP had estimated before the April 20 explosion that
caused the leak that a freely flowing pipe from the well would release
100,000 barrels of oil a day in the worst-case scenario.

The oil
was not freely flowing before the top kill or before they cut the pipe,
Leifer said, but once the riser pipe was cleared, there was little
blocking the oil's rise to the top of the blowout preventer. Video
images confirm that the flow of black oil is unimpeded.

"If the
pipe behaved as a worst-case estimate you would have no visual change
in the flow, and I don't see any obvious visual change," Leifer said.
"How much larger I don't know but let's just quote BP."

How much
oil is gushing from the well has been the subject of heated debate for
weeks, with independent scientists suggesting that as much as 95,000
barrels could be gushing into the Gulf of Mexico each day. For more
than a month BP and the Obama administration placed the figure at 5,000
barrels a day.

On Monday, Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the Obama
administration's point man on the unfolding disaster, said that the
government and BP still don't know how much oil is escaping. The "top
hat" containment device captured 11,000 barrels of oil on Sunday, Allen
said, and that BP was moving a second ship into position above the well
to bring to 20,000 barrels the amount of crude that could be processed
daily.

Allen also said that BP is moving a production platform
with far greater capacity to the Gulf though that equipment may not be
in place for several weeks.

“We just know that's their capacity.
We still haven’t established what the flow rate is,” he said. “That is
the big unknown that we’re trying to hone in and get the exact numbers
on."

Even so, BP’s videos of the gusher showed black oil
continuing to flow heavily from all around the wellhead as the crude
leaks from around the cap’s edges.

A team of experts from
government science agencies and universities estimated last week that
at a minimum 12,000 to 25,000 barrels a day were flowing from the well,
but the team declined to estimate an upper end for the flow because the
information they received from BP was inadequate.

Leifer, who is
described in the flow rate's preliminary report released last week as a
"world reknown researcher" who's published more than 60 scientific
articles, said BP still has not delivered the data that scientists need
for an accurate appraisal of the spill's size.

"We're still waiting," he said.

Allen said that one reason it was important to be able to estimate the
rate of flow was so that officials could know how much flow the cap
could handle and how much would be lost into the Gulf. Officials say
the gusher won’t be over until BP finishes drilling relief wells,
probably in August.

Allen said the containment cap would have to be watched “very, very closely.”

“We ought to be ruthless in our oversight of BP, and trying to
understand what oil is not being contained that's leaking out around
that rubber seal, once we know what that flow rate is,” he said. “And
we need to understand completely that if we have severe weather in the
form of a hurricane, there may be times where we’re going to have to
disconnect that operation and re-establish, and during that time we’re
going to have oil coming to the surface again.”

Allen said early
Monday that BP had closed one of the four vents on the cap and would
try to close the others to get more oil flowing to the containment
vessel. However, Wells, the BP vice president, later in the day said
that the company had changed its view about the need to close the
vents.

At first glance, it seemed that closing the vents was
necessary to maximize the amount of oil and gas that could be
collected, but that didn’t prove to be the case, he said. Keeping some
vents open gave the company more flexibility when it had to shut down
temporarily during a storm, as it did during a thunderstorm Sunday, he
said.

Allen and Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary,
said during the news briefing that they didn’t know whether BP was
required to pay federal royalties on the oil it was collecting from the
runaway well.

McClatchy reported Thursday that BP stood to make
millions of dollars on the oil. The Department of the Interior’s
Minerals Management Service wouldn't say at that time whether BP would
pay royalties to the U.S government on the oil that it captures.

Department of Interior spokeswoman Kendra Barkoff said Monday, however:
“The Department of the Interior will ensure that all royalties owed to
the United States are collected.”

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