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Last week on June 15 the US Department of Energy announced that a group of federal and independent scientists convened by Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, and Chair of the National Incident Command’s Flow Rate Technical Group (FRTG) Dr. Marcia McNutt (Director of the U.S. Geological Survey) had developed a new estimate for the amount of oil gushing from the ruptured well in the Gulf of Mexico that indicated the leak could be spewing up to 2.52 million gallons of crude oil per day into the waters of the Gulf of Mexico from British Petroleum’s Macondo Well.
“This estimate brings together several scientific methodologies and the latest information from the sea floor, and represents a significant step forward in our effort to put a number on the oil that is escaping from BP’s well,” said Chu, who then expanded with “As we continue to collect additional data and refine these estimates, it is important to realize that the numbers can change. In particular, the upper number is less certain – which is exactly why we have been planning for the worst case scenario at every stage and why we are continuing to focus on responding to the upper end of the estimate, plus additional contingencies.”
Estimates from both BP and from the US Government of the amount of oil gushing from the blown out wellhead on the gulf seabed have been almost continually revised upwards since the well blowout and leak began on April 20, with widespread suspicions that BP has deliberately understated the leak rate in attempts to limit liability for the company.
It now appears that Chu may have been somewhat prescient with his statement that “it is important to realize that the numbers can change”, and that the estimate of oil leaking into the Gulf of Mexico may need to be increased again, since an undated internal BP document (.PDF) obtained by Chairman of the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming Congressman Ed Markey (D-MA) was released by Markey on Sunday June 20 showing that BP’s own internal analysis believed that a worst-case scenario, based on damage to the well bore, could result in a leak of 100,000 barrels of oil per day.
In the document, BP stated: “If BOP and wellhead are removed and if we have incorrectly modeled the restrictions – the rate could be as high as ~ 100,000 barrels per day up the casing or 55,000 barrels per day up the annulus (low probability worst cases)”
“Considering what is now known about BP’s problems with this well prior to the Deepwater Horizon explosion, including cementing issues, leaks in the blowout preventer and gas kicks, BP should have been more honest about the dangerous condition of the well bore,” said Markey…
“When the oil spill started, BP said it was only 1,000 barrels a day. Now we know it could end up being 100 times larger than that in a worst-case scenario,”
“This document raises very troubling questions about what BP knew and when they knew it. It is clear that, from the beginning, BP has not been straightforward with the government or the American people about the true size of this spill. Now the families living and working in the Gulf are suffering from their incompetence.”
“BP needs to tell us what it will do if the well bore is compromised and 100,000 barrels per day of oil spills into the ocean. At this point, we need real contingency planning, not a plan with dead scientists and walruses…”
100,000 barrels per day would be 4.2 million gallons of oil per day leaking into the waters of the gulf, or more than the officially reported 10.8 million gallons of crude oil the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill poured into Prince William Sound off the Gulf of Alaska, every three days.
BP’s well has now been leaking continuously for more than two months.
What may be even more troubling is a Sunday June 20 Associated Press report that states:
The oil emanating from the seafloor contains about 40 percent methane, compared with about 5 percent found in typical oil deposits, said John Kessler, a Texas A&M University oceanographer who is studying the impact of methane from the spill.
That means huge quantities of methane have entered the Gulf, scientists say, potentially suffocating marine life and creating “dead zones” where oxygen is so depleted that nothing lives.
“This is the most vigorous methane eruption in modern human history,” Kessler said.
The dangerous gas has played an important role throughout the disaster and response. A bubble of methane is believed to have burst up from the seafloor and ignited the rig explosion. Methane crystals also clogged a four-story containment box that engineers earlier tried to place on top of the breached well.
Now it is being looked at as an environmental concern.
The small microbes that live in the sea have been feeding on the oil and natural gas in the water and are consuming larger quantities of oxygen, which they need to digest food. As they draw more oxygen from the water, it creates two problems. When oxygen levels drop low enough, the breakdown of oil grinds to a halt; and as it is depleted in the water, most life can’t be sustained.
The National Science Foundation funded research on methane in the Gulf amid concerns about the depths of the oil plume and questions what role natural gas was playing in keeping the oil below the surface, said David Garrison, a program director in the federal agency who specializes in biological oceanography.
“This has the potential to harm the ecosystem in ways that we don’t know,” Garrison said. “It’s a complex problem.”
Steven DiMarco, an oceanographer at Texas A&M University who has studied a long-known “dead zone” in the Gulf, said one example of marine life that could be affected by low oxygen levels in deeper waters would be giant squid – the food of choice for the endangered sperm whale population. Squid live primarily in deep water, and would be disrupted by lower oxygen levels, DiMarco said.
All of which prompted Orlando Independent Examiner Gregory Patin to speculate this afternoon that:
Given the continual incremental increases of the oil leak as well as the failure to mention the amount of methane gas escaping in to the Gulf, it does suggest that at best, this is a result of utter incompetence or outright lies. It is not beyond the realm of possibility that the American people have been willfully mislead by BP, the corporate media and the US government in order to gradually condition them to accept the enormity of this disaster.
It is also possible that the environmental damage will not be able to be reversed – at least in our lifetimes. Some of the oil may be able to be cleaned up, but it is impossible to clean up methane.
Congressman Markey appeared on NBC’s Meet The Press with his announcement. Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman reports: