NPR logo Feds' Secret Fear: Oil Spill Could Hugely Expand

Feds' Secret Fear: Oil Spill Could Hugely Expand

Getting much attention Friday afternoon is a story by Ben Raines, environmental reporter for the Mobile Press Register, in which he reports on a not-for-the-public document which captures the fears of some federal officials that the Gulf of Mexico oil spill could become far worse, downright uncontrollable.

An excerpt:

A confidential government report on the unfolding spill disaster in the Gulf makes clear the Coast Guard now fears the well could become an unchecked gusher shooting millions of gallons of oil per day into the Gulf.

"The following is not public," reads the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Emergency Ops document dated April 28. "Two additional release points were found today. If the riser pipe deteriorates further, the flow could become unchecked resulting in a release volume an order of magnitude higher than previously thought."

In scientific circles, an order of magnitude means something is 10 times larger. In this case, an order of magnitude higher would mean the volume of oil coming from the well could be 10 times higher than the 5,000 barrels a day coming out now. That would mean 50,000 barrels a day, or 2.1 million gallons a day. It appears the new leaks mentioned in the Wednesday release are the leaks reported to the public late Wednesday night.

"There is no official change in the volume released but the Coast Guard is preparing for a worst-case release," continues the document.

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While alarming, the information in this story likely won't come as a surprise to many people who have been following this story since the news has only seemed to get worse as this disaster has evolved.

Given that, one question for federal officials would be why they haven't shared this information in the blunt fashion it deserves with the public. People, especially those whose livelihoods are directly impacted, have a right to know just how heavy the flow of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico could become.

By the way, the New Orleans Times Picayune has a very helpful infographic that makes understanding the situation under the gulf's surface easier.