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Why Accurate Measurements of the Blowout are Essential

There's been lots of speculation lately on just how much oil is leaking from the Deepwater Horizon blowout. Unfortunately BP has been low-balling their estimates from the very beginning, first estimating it at 1000 barrels/day, then raising that estimate to 5000 based on early calculations by Skytruth and Dr. Ian MacDonald. Surfrider has been using Skytruth's more recent calculations as the basis for the counter running at the top of our site. As of today, this calculation puts the total volume of oil released at a whopping 35 Million gallons, more than 3 times the size of Exxon Valdez.

In the meantime, BP has resisted efforts to accurately measure the flow of oil, saying that it's unnecessary and not even possible.

  • Lamar McKay, President of BP America: “The volume estimates are based effectively on surface expression, because you can’t measure what’s coming out at the seabed.” [Senate testimony, 5/12/10]
  • Tom Mueller, BP: “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.” [5/14/10]

BP finally relented to pressures to allow a live video stream from the leak but still insist that measurements are not needed.

Today, the New York Times ran an Op-Ed by a team of researchers arguing very clearly why knowing the true volume is important, and how it could be done simply and accurately.

  • "It is our view that accurate, continuously updated measurements are not only possible, but absolutely essential if we are to respond effectively to this and future disasters." ... "Without knowing the flow’s true magnitude, how can anyone judge the success of any approach? Without determining how much oil is beneath the ocean’s surface and how much is floating toward land, how can we best direct response efforts?"
  • "...our preliminary estimates indicate that the discharge is at least 40,000 barrels per day and could be as much as 100,000 barrels. Certainly, our assessments suggest that BP’s stated worst-case estimate of 60,000 barrels has been occurring all along. What matters most is that we take the steps to find out if it has"

Understanding the full extent of oil in the water will have huge implications for cleanup planning, especially as the oil is carried to Florida (and beyond) by the Loop Current and possibly into the Gulf Stream.