BP's billions of reasons to lie about oil spill magnitude

The government and BP have consistently and grossly underestimated the amount of oil bursting from the underwater oil volcano BP created:

The amount of oil spilling into the Gulf of Mexico may be at least 10 times the size of official estimates, according to an exclusive analysis conducted for NPR.

At NPR’s request, experts examined video that BP released Wednesday. Their findings suggest the BP spill is already far larger than the 1989 Exxon Valdez accident in Alaska, which spilled at least 250,000 barrels of oil….

Steven Wereley, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at Purdue University, analyzed videotape of the seafloor gusher using a technique called particle image velocimetry.

A computer program simply tracks particles and calculates how fast they are moving. Wereley put the BP video of the gusher into his computer. He made a few simple calculations and came up with an astonishing value for the rate of the oil spill: 70,000 barrels a day — much higher than the official estimate of 5,000 barrels a day.

The method is accurate to a degree of plus or minus 20 percent.

Given that uncertainty, the amount of material spewing from the pipe could range from 56,000 barrels to 84,000 barrels a day.

… Timothy Crone, an associate research scientist at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, used another well-accepted method to calculate fluid flows. Crone arrived at a similar figure, but he said he’d like better video from BP before drawing a firm conclusion.

Eugene Chiang, a professor of astrophysics at the University of California, Berkeley, also got a similar answer, using just pencil and paper.

Without even having a sense of scale from the BP video, he correctly deduced that the diameter of the pipe was about 20 inches. And though his calculation is less precise than Wereley’s, it is in the same ballpark.

“I would peg it at around 20,000 to 100,000 barrels per day,” he said.

Why are BP and the government lying? Perhaps to save BP billions of dollars in Clean Water Act fines:

Following discharge of oil into a water body, the federal Clean Water Act allows for a civil penalty of up to $1,000 per barrel of oil spilled. This penalty can not be calculated to its fullest extent without knowing the total volume of oil…. Using the “official” number of 5,000 barrels per day, their current tally is $140 million (and counting). Using some of the higher estimates provided by visual analysis of the leaking pipe, BP’s current tally is in the billions (and counting).

Posted by James on Friday, May 21, 2010