Deepwater Horizon Oil Leak Ten Times Worse than Previously Thought

Yet more bad news about the Deepwater Horizon oil leak: The amount of oil pouring into the Gulf of Mexico is more than ten times greater than previously thought, according to a recent analysis.

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Recently, BP succumbed to mounting pressure to release their underwater video of the leak so outside experts could use it to make estimates. NPR took them up on it: they assembled a group of experts to analyze the video. Their conclusion? The oil leak is already far worse than the Exxon Valdez: Whereas the official estimate pegs the BP leak at 5,000 barrels a day, NPR’s analysis concludes that 70,000 barrels have been leaking each day, plus or minus 20 percent.

The science behind the estimate is interesting:

BP has said repeatedly that there is no reliable way to measure the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico by looking at the oil gushing out of the pipe. But scientists say there are actually many proven techniques for doing just that.

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.

So: Between 56,000 and 84,000 barrels a day. Not all of that volume is oil: Some of it is methane, but the majority of it is almost certainly comprised of oil, which puts us at the “ten times worse” figure.

Truly awful. And just days ago, the head of BP, Tony Hayward, dismissed the spill as “tiny” in an interview with The Guardian on the brilliant grounds that the Gulf of Mexico is bigger than it. “The Gulf of Mexico is a very big ocean … The amount of oil and dispersant we are putting into it is tiny in relation to the water volume.”

(via NPR)


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