Scientist says BP well could be leaking 100,000 barrels of oil a day

By John Byrne
Tuesday, June 8, 2010 9:11 EDT
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A University of California researcher and member of the Obama Administration’s Flow Rate Technical Group said Monday that BP’s leaking Gulf oil well could be leeching 20 times as much oil as the company originally claimed.

In little noticed comments to McClatchy Newspapers, the researcher, Ira Leifer, noted that even BP itself estimated the worst-case flow of an oil leak in the Gulf could reach 100,000 barrels a day.

“In the data I’ve seen, there’s nothing inconsistent with BP’s worst case scenario,” Leifer was quoted as saying.

Leifer cited satellite data that appeared to show the leaking well’s flow was increasing over time. He also noted that BP’s decision to drill open a pipe in an effort to place a “hat” on the damaged well had substantially increased the amount of oil that may be spewing into the sea.

The Obama Administration and BP estimated that the pipe cut could up the leak flow by 20 percent. BP now says the cap is containing 11,000 barrels of oil a day. Leifer, however, told McClatchy that he believes the split pipe could be releasing a far greater amount of crude.

“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,” the paper noted. “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 remarked. “How much larger I don’t know but let’s just quote BP.”

In a University of California press release trumpeting Leifer’s role in projecting the amount of oil leaking into the Gulf, he said: “I don’t really want to put an exact number on this, but it’s safe to say that the total amount is significantly larger, from some fraction to multiples of that lower bound number. I do not feel comfortable yet to provide an upper bound.

“These early estimates are basically early inventories of what we can observe or what BP has observed,” he said. “We know that there are areas that have not been studied, while other areas lack confirmation from researchers outside BP. Thus, it is very likely that the total volumes spilled to date are much larger than today’s released estimates, even if we do not have an upper estimate yet.”

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