Workers construct a dam to keep oil from entering wetlands on Elmer's Island in Louisiana.
Workers construct a dam to keep oil from entering wetlands on Elmer's Island in Louisiana. Patrick Semansky/AP
BP proved Thursday that the oil spill in the Gulf is larger than it's been saying all along. For three weeks, the company stuck to the Coast Guard estimate that the Deepwater Horizon well was leaking 5,000 barrels a day. But the oil company now says it's capturing that amount of oil from the leak. Meanwhile, their own live video feed released Thursday shows large quantities of oil and gas continuing to spew from pipes on the seafloor.
At a news conference Thursday, Democratic Rep. Ed Markey of Massachusetts proclaimed what has now become obvious: "The 5,000 barrels a day estimate that BP pushed all along is dead wrong."
Three weeks ago, Ian MacDonald from Florida State University and John Amos of Skytruth.org, an independent organization that analyzes satellite data, first suggested the surface spill was being underestimated. Then, last week, scientists looking at an earlier BP video from the seafloor told NPR that the oil and gas spewing out of a broken pipe could easily be 10 times more than the official estimate, which was based on three-week-old pictures of the sea surface.
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BP's live feed from the seafloor is now posted on Markey's website, after the congressman asked the Coast Guard and BP to release it. On Thursday afternoon, the video highlighted one leak, and there is one other break in the pipe spewing oil and gas. (Initially, it appeared there were two other ruptures.) A scientist told Markey's committee Wednesday that the second break appears to be spewing out 25,000 barrels a day.
And yet, BP spokesman Mark Proegler still says the company has no idea how much oil and gas is coming out of the leaking pipe, which is known as a riser.
"We've said from the beginning it's difficult ... if not impossible to measure it at the riser, but more importantly our response is not dependent on what that rate is. It's really, we're prepared for everything," says Proegler.
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He says BP has launched a full-scale assault on the oil at the surface. But Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) finds that explanation lacking.
"It's an absurd position that BP has taken that it's not important for them to know how much oil is gushing out of this pipeline. Well, if they don't know that, how are they going to plug it up?" says Waxman.
BP is hoping to plug up the top of the well this weekend. That does require accurate information about the pressure inside. The BP spokesman said the company is still trying to measure that pressure, which is directly related to the flow of oil and gas.
Markey says it's also important to know how much oil is spilling, since BP is attacking the oil underwater with chemicals called dispersants.
"If it's 5,000 barrels, it's going to be one level of dispersant that would be sent into the water," says Markey. "If it's 50,000 or 75,000 barrels per day, that's yet another level, and increases dramatically the risk."
Dispersants are toxic chemicals in their own right. In fact, today the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ordered BP to seek less hazardous dispersants than the ones they've been using thus far. What's more, the administration has demanded that BP hand over all of its environmental and analytical data within 48 hours. And the government itself now needs to come up with a new and credible figure for the spill.