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Saturday, May 1, 2010

Joseph Romm: Oilpocalypse Now -- WSJ reports BP oil disaster may be leaking at rate of 1 million gallons a day

Oilpocalypse Now: WSJ reports BP oil disaster may be leaking at rate of 1 million gallons a day

Spill may exceed Exxon Valdez within days -- not weeks

by Joseph Romm, Climate Progress, May 1, 2010

If you live along the Gulf Coast or have relevant expertise (e.g., offshore drilling, the near-impossible task of cleaning up these messes) — and are interested in writing guest posts – please contact me (click here).

Climate Progress will be following the BP oil disaster story closely for several reasons:
  1. It will be the biggest energy and environmental news story for the foreseeable future.  Eleven people are already dead and if yesterday’s Wall Street Journal story, “Experts: Oil May Be Leaking at Rate of 25,000 Barrels a Day in Gulf” (subs. req’d, excerpted below) is accurate, then the scope of the environmental disaster is far beyond anything we’ve imagined.
  2. How the story plays out will probably determine more than anything else whether there is comprehensive energy and climate legislation this year.
  3. I have been writing, researching, and speaking about oil for two decades now. My first two books discussed the oil security issue extensively, including the one I wrote for the Council on Foreign Relations in 1993, Defining National Security: the Nonmilitary Aspects. My first Congressional testimony representing the Department of Energy in 1996 was on an analysis that I did on the threat posed by growing US oil dependence (hard to read HTML here, massive PDF here). I have been following the oil and the drilling debate closely here on CP.  As I discussed in a March post, here’s what we’re going to get for all that new drilling people want to do:  EIA: New offshore drilling will lower gas prices in 2030 a few pennies a gallon.
  4. I’m already getting bombarded with emails from experts with angles and analyses on the disaster that I haven’t seen discussed in the media yet.
Did I mention it’s time to get off the dirty, unsafe energy sources of the 19th century that can’t sustain the human race and that’s it’s time to redouble our efforts to embrace the clean, safe energy sources of the 21st century that never run out?

Here is my segment on Countdown with Keith Olbermann from Thursday night, when we had just learned that BP’s confident statements the leak was small and they could handle it were dead wrong:

When I went on, we had just learned that the spill rate was 5 times the 1,000-barrels-a-day rate BP had been insisting on. Wonk Room’s Brad Johnson reported Friday morning that the rate could be 20,000 barrels a day, according to John Amos, the president and founder of the nonprofit firm SkyTruth, “which specializes in gathering and analyzing satellite and aerial data to promote environmental conservation.”

Now the WSJ piece reports it could be even worse than that:
Ian MacDonald, professor of oceanography at Florida State University who specializes in tracking ocean oil seeps from satellite imagery, said there may already be more than 9 million gallons of oil floating in the Gulf now, based on his estimate of a 25,000 barrel-a-day leak rate.
That’s compared to 12 million gallons spilled in the Valdez accident.
Interior Department officials said it may take 90 days to cap the leaking well. If the 25,000 barrels a day is accurate and it leaks for 90 days, that’s 2.25 million barrels or 94.5 million gallons.
Mr. MacDonald and his colleagues at the Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Science Department have worked jointly with National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the past on oil spill tracking, and have shared their estimates with NOAA scientists. He said the NOAA scientists didn’t dispute the calculations.
A NOAA spokeswoman said the government estimate of 5,000 barrels a day leaking from the BP PLC deep sea well was based on collaborative assessments produced by BP, NOAA and the U.S. Coast Guard….
John Amos, a geologist who has worked as a consultant with companies such as BP, ExxonMobil Corp. and Royal Dutch Shell PLC on tracking and measuring oil spills from satellite data, said NOAA raised its estimates to 5,000 barrels a day after he and his colleagues published calculations that showed the original figures were far too low based on the NOAA data. Amos has also previously participated in a joint industry-NASA study using satellite imagines to detect and track oil slicks.
Mr. Amos said the 5,000 barrels a day is the “extremely low end” of their estimates. He said, based on NOAA maps, a more realistic figure is 20,000 barrels a day.
John Curry, a spokesman for BP working from their Gulf coast central command operations, said the 5,000 barrel a day was a “guestimate.” “There’s a range of uncertainty, and it’s very difficult to accurately gauge how much there is,” he said.
“Guestimate” is a euphemism for BP’s whole effort — from buying a rig without the latest backup shut off switch (one that even Brazil requires) to opposing Interior Department efforts to strengthen the voluntary, “trust me,” self regulation the industry got under Bush-Cheney to their rosy worst-case scenario that they sold to the Obama Administration to their post-disaster claims that they could handle a spill.

Stay tuned, there’s a lot more going to come out on the role of BP — and Halliburton — in this oilpocalypse.

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