Research scientist claims BP oil gush closer to 3 mn gallons a day

Congressman to launch inquiry on how much oil is gushing into gulf

By CNN Wire Staff

A U.S. congressman said he will launch a formal inquiry Friday into how much oil is gushing into the Gulf of Mexico after learning of independent estimates that are significantly higher than the amount BP officials have provided.

A senior BP official, however, said the company stands by its estimate of 5,000 barrels leaking a day.

Rep. Edward Markey, a Democrat from Massachusetts, said he will send a letter to BP and ask for more details from federal agencies about the methods they are using to analyze the oil leak.

Markey, who chairs a congressional subcommittee on energy and the environment, said miscalculating the spill’s volume may be hampering efforts to stop it.

“I am concerned that an underestimation of the oil spill’s flow may be impeding the ability to solve the leak and handle the management of the disaster,” he said in a statement Thursday. “If you don’t understand the scope of the problem, the capacity to find the answer is severely compromised.”

BP officials have said 5,000 barrels per day of crude, or 210,000 gallons, have been leaking for the past three weeks. The company reached that number using data, satellite images and consultation with the Coast Guard and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

“I think that’s a good range,” Doug Suttles, BP’s CEO for exploration and production, said Friday.

He said that BP was focused on stopping the leak and that over the next 24 hours, the company will be trying a new method of containment involving an insertion pipe inside of a riser where the oil is leaking. The tube will siphon the oil, and instead of flowing into the ocean, the oil will be sent up to a drilling ship on location, Suttles said.

A previous effort to cap the gusher with a four-story containment dome failed when natural gas crystals collected inside the structure, plugging an outlet at the top.

“I think the people of the Gulf Coast here, what do they want from me?” Suttles said. “They want me to get this flow stopped, and they want me to make sure we minimize the impact. That’s what they want me to do.”

A researcher at Purdue University said BP’s estimate on the oil leak was very low. Associate Professor Steve Wereley predicted that about 70,000 barrels of oil per day are gushing into the gulf after analyzing video of the spill.

Wereley said he arrived at that number after spending two hours Thursday analyzing video of a spill using a technique called particle image velocimetry. He said there is a 20 percent margin of error, which means between 56,000 and 84,000 barrels could be leaking daily.

“You can’t say with precision, but you can see there’s definitely more coming out of that pipe than people thought. It’s definitely not 5,000 barrels a day,” he said.

Markey’s statement said that officials from BP, drilling contractor Transocean Ltd. and oilfield services contractor Halliburton estimated a worst-case-scenario maximum flow at 60,000 barrels a day during congressional testimony May 4.

More than 260,000 barrels of oil spilled during the 1989 wreck of the supertanker Exxon Valdez in Alaska’s Prince William Sound.

Oil has been gushing into the gulf since April, when an explosion sank the Deepwater Horizon drill rig. The blast left 11 workers lost at sea.

BP, the Coast Guard, and state and local authorities have scrambled to keep the oil from reaching shore or the ecologically delicate coastal wetlands off Louisiana. They have burned off patches of the slick, deployed more than 280 miles of protective booms, skimmed as much as 4 million gallons of oily water off the surface of the gulf and pumped more than 400,000 gallons of chemical dispersants onto the oil.

Investigators are still trying to determine what caused the April 20 explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon.

BP has blamed Transocean, which owned the rig. Transocean says that BP was responsible for the wellhead’s design and that Halliburton was responsible for cementing the well shut once drilled. And Halliburton says that its workers were just following BP’s orders, but that Transocean was responsible for maintaining the rig’s blowout preventer.

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