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Opinion: Misleading information about scope of oil spill

A May 17 NASA photo of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

BP,  feds and some media downplay rate of oil spewing from broken pipe; TV crew chased from oil-stained beach hear this: “… this is BP’s rules, not ours …”

By Bob Berwyn

Since I reported on reforms to the BLM’s onshore oil and gas leasing program yesterday, my first mouse click this morning was on a Denver Post Twitter link to a story about more changes to the way the federal government manages energy production on public lands — your lands, and my lands.

The Post reported that the interior department will split the discredited Minerals Management Service into three parts to try and resolve the agency’s conflicting missions. So far, so good. But high in the story, in the second paragraph to be exact, I found this sentence:

“MMS, which oversees offshore oil drilling, has been criticized for its oversight of the BP drilling platform that exploded April 20 and has been spewing about 5,000 barrels of oil a day into the Gulf of Mexico.”

The problem is, there is more and more evidence that the rate of oil spilling from the broken pipe is far higher than those early estimates — perhaps 10 times as high, according to this report from NPR.

And as early as May 13, the New York Times reported extensively on conflicting information about the calculations surrounding the amount of oil surging into the Gulf of Mexico, citing scientists who said the amount is critical because the volume is directly related to the amount of damage that will ultimately result to ocean and shoreline ecosystems.

Both BP and the federal government have resisted efforts by the media to get an accurate figure, with BP deflecting attention from the rate by saying they’re focusing all their efforts on containment and cleanup. Sounds good, but it seems like they would need to know how much needs to be contained and cleaned up.

Think of it this way: When you spill milk on the counter, you tend to eyeball the size of the puddle to estimate how many paper towels you’ll need to absorb the mess.

The New York Times also reported that the technology to measure the size of the spill is readily available. Here’s the relevant paragraph from the story:

“Yet for decades, specialists have used a technique that is almost tailor-made for the problem. With undersea gear that resembles the ultrasound machines in medical offices, they measure the flow rate from hot-water vents on the ocean floor. Scientists said that such equipment could be tuned to allow for accurate measurement of oil and gas flowing from the well.”

Oceanographers who use the gear to measure those hot-water vents were ready to fly to the Gulf to try and measure the spill, but were told not to come, the Times reports. And independent watchdog groups like SKYTRUTH have been doing their own monitoring, providing better information than official sources.

And ProPublica is reporting that BP and the federal government are withholding other data related to the spill, for example the results of tests on how many toxic fumes the cleanup workers might be inhaling as the oil evaporates in the clean-up zone.

CBS news reported that one of its film crews was chased off an oil-stained beach by BP contractors and the U.S. Coast Guard. The incident was captured on video.

The federal government said Tuesday it’s preparing new estimates on the spill. Hopefully, they will be based on the best available science and not on wishful thinking.

4 Responses

  1. While watching the latest news about the BP Oil spill, a frightening thought came to mind: what if we can’t stop the oil? I mean, what happens if after all the measures to cap the pipe fail, (i.e., “Top Hat”, “Small Hat” and “Top Kill”). What then? An accident this problematic is new territory for BP. The oil pipeline is nearly a mile down on the ocean floor, accessible only by robots. Add on top of that the extreme pressure at which the oil is flowing out of the pipeline and there you have it: the perfect storm.

    Moreover, scientists also claim that they’ve found an enormous plume of oil floating just under the surface of the ocean measuring approximately 10 miles long, 3 miles wide and 300 feet thick. (I’m no math genius, but I bet one of you reading this could figure out just how many barrels of oil that is…)

    There are new estimates that the amount of oil spewing into the Gulf of Mexico is anywhere from 50,000 to 100,000 barrels of oil a day: that’s a far cry from BP’s estimated 5,000 barrels a day. If BP’s estimates are correct, the total amount of oil now in the Gulf would be approximately 150,000 barrels (or 6,300,000 gallons). That’s barely enough to fill 286 swimming pools: sixteen feet, by thirty-two feet, by eight and a half feet deep. That wouldn’t cover an area the size of New York City, let alone an area the size of Delaware. Obviously, the spill is much larger than we are being led to believe. If the leak can’t be stopped, in a year’s time, we’ll have roughly 18,250,000 barrels of oil (or 766,500,000 gallons) in our oceans, killing our marine and animal wildlife. Such a calamity would be environmentally and economically disastrous. I’m not a religious man, but I pray that BP and our government work fast to end this catastrophe.

    http://www.calculateme.com/Volume/Barrels(Petroleum)/ToGallons.htm

    http://blogs.howstuffworks.com/2010/05/17/latest-news-from-the-oil-spill-in-the-gulf-of-mexico-is-grim/

    http://blogs.creativeloafing.com/dailyloaf/2010/05/20/scientist-says-oil-spill-is-leaking-100000-barrels-of-oil-a-day-not-bps-estimate-of-5000/

    • If so many are stepping up to offer very vaulable and working possible solutions, WHY is the government not jumping on these possible solutions? Keven Costner’s idea –I even said hay or straw to help soak it up. We are all hurting because of this and all want to help, but the government and EPA seem to say if we didn’t think of it –we are not going to try it. If Costener’s idea will work even at 98% isn’t that better than what is happening now? We all need to pray that God will save our water , plants, and animals that are in harms way.
      Man can not do this alone.
      This awful tragedy hurts us ALL.
      PRAY
      JG

  2. I want to suggest that the oil spill in the gulf of mexico must stop, this situation is killing over millions of sea creatures are dieing. I think someone should go under water an solve this disaster.

    Keme-EL Assegid
    Braeburn school
    Nairobi, Kenya

  3. […] preposterous idea is coming in the form of anonymous comments on various posts relating to the oil spill. Of course there’s no evidence to support any of the wild claims, […]

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