MELISSA BLOCK, host:
The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee today released more BP videos of the source of the oil spill. Democratic Senators Bill Nelson of Florida and Barbara Boxer of California had asked BP for all of its videos, and they got their first batch today. The new video shows more dramatic plumes of oil and gas coming out from around the broken blowout preventer.
Last week, at NPR's request, scientists analyzed a clip of video BP had released and concluded that the spill is much bigger than the official estimates. This new video will help them and others come up with a more precise figure.
And joining us to talk about this is NPR's Richard Harris. Hey, Richard.
RICHARD HARRIS: Hi, Melissa.
BLOCK: You've been watching these videos showing the oil and gas billowing from the bottom of the Gulf. What do you make of what you're seeing?
HARRIS: Well, let's step a back a second because let's remember that the major point of our stories last week was that scientists were telling us it is actually quite possible to look at videos like that and measure the size of the spill, actually fairly accurately.
Even as BP was saying no, you can't do that, our scientists were saying yes, you can, and they demonstrated that. And though the experts working with NPR are confident that this bill is much bigger than the official estimate, there's still a lot of uncertainty in that, and because remember, they were only studying one 30-second video clip.
So now they have a lot more to work with. And it's not just video of the main spill that we have been seeing over and over on TV, but the new video shows other impressive streams of oil and gas coming out from around the blowout preventer, which is about 600 feet away.
BLOCK: And again, Richard, those numbers last week that you got from the experts looking at the original video suggest that the leak could be more than 10 times bigger than the official number. They did have an important caveat, though. They said they didn't know how much of the spill was oil and how much was natural gas. Any progress on that?
HARRIS: Yes, actually. Last Thursday when I asked BP, they said they didn't know the ratio of oil to gas, but on Sunday, BP did give NPR a figure. It's a little confusing, but in oil industry lingo, a spokesman said it's a gas-oil ratio of 3,000 to one.
Now, it's not really that much. It's not really as much gas as it sounds because at the high pressure of the sea floor, the gas is compressed, and the oil isn't. So the gusher is really more like three parts gas to one part oil, if you take those BP figures.
And the scientists who are working with NPR say they still see so much oil in the videos, at least for now, they're sticking firm to their estimates that they shared with us last week, which is 10 times the official number or possibly more.
BLOCK: But still, BP, for now, is sticking to that guesstimate from the government, 5,000 barrels a day. They're saying: Why is there still such a big discrepancy? And how do you figure that would get resolved?
HARRIS: Well, the federal government is sticking with its two-week-old estimate, which is really based on a survey of oil sitting on the surface of the water. That is the standard way of measuring a slick, even though scientists are telling us now that there are really much better methods available if you do a close analysis of what's flowing out of the pipes.
Congress keeps pushing at this, though. And tomorrow, there is a hearing coming up, and one of the scientists who did the original analysis for NPR, Steve Worley of Purdue University, will be testifying on this subject. So, yeah.
BLOCK: Yeah, and Richard, what's riding on this calculation? Why is it important to know exactly how much oil is coming out of this well?
HARRIS: Yeah, and the federal government and BP keep saying it doesn't really matter that much. They say, you know, they have an all-out assault, essentially, on the cleanup and they're doing the best they can. They can't possibly do any better. So to them, they keep saying oh, the number doesn't really matter.
But there are possible legal ramifications. For one thing, BP will be held responsible for environmental damage under the Federal Oil Pollution Act. And even though there's not, like, a dollar-per-gallon fine or anything like that, the number could very well fit into there.
Also, let's remember that BP has been trying to figure out how to stop the oil spill, and so you hope that their engineers are basing their decisions on a good, firm estimate of how much oil and gas they're dealing with and how quickly it's spewing out of these pipes.
BLOCK: Okay, NPR's Richard Harris, thanks so much.
HARRIS: My pleasure.