Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Amount of Gulf oil flow still unknown

BP increases amount it can collect in vessel

By Renee Schoof and Erika Bolstad • MCCLATCHY NEWSPAPERS • June 8, 2010

 WASHINGTON — Even after installing a containment cap last week, the federal government and BP still don't know how much oil is spewing out of the broken well into the Gulf of Mexico, but it seems increasingly likely that it's much more than estimate BP has been increasing the amount of oil it can collect, and it expects that the amount will continue to go up, the company's senior vice president for exploration, Kent Wells, said Monday. In the three days since the company put a cap on the well, it went from collecting 6,000 barrels a day to 11,000 barrels on Sunday. When a second oil collection vessel is in place, the company will be able to collect 20,000 barrels a day.

Retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the government's point man on the spill, said Monday that it wasn't clear that BP would capture and produce that much oil.

"We just know that's their capacity. We still haven't established what the flow rate is," he said. "That is the big unknown that we're trying to hone in and get the exact numbers on."

Even so, BP's videos of the gusher showed black oil continuing to flow heavily from all around the wellhead as the crude leaks from around the cap's edges.

New estimate soon
A team of experts from government science agencies and universities has estimated that at a minimum 12,000 to 25,000 barrels a day are flowing. Members of the team have said they haven't been able to estimate an upper end of the flow because their data from BP were insufficient. They have continued to work with additional data and are expected to give a new estimate late this week or next.

In an interview, Ira Leifer, an associate researcher at the Marine Science Institute of the University of California, Santa Barbara, and a member of the group of outside experts working to calculate the amount of oil flowing from the well, said Friday that he had examined satellite data and determined that the flow had been increasing over time, especially since the failed "top kill" operation, BP's effort last month to clog the leak.

Allen said that one reason it was important to be able to estimate the rate of flow was so that officials could know how much flow the cap could handle and how much would be lost into the Gulf. Officials say the gusher won't be over until BP finishes drilling relief wells, probably in August.

"We ought to be ruthless in our oversight of BP, and trying to understand what oil is not being contained that's leaking out around that rubber seal, once we know what that flow rate is," he said. "And we need to understand completely that if we have severe weather in the form of a hurricane, there may be times where we're going to have to disconnect that operation and re-establish, and during that time we're going to have oil coming to the surface again."

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