How Much Oil Is Actually Being Spilled?

Ken AshfordDisasters, Energy and Conservation, Environment & Global Warming & EnergyLeave a Comment

When the oil spill first occured, we were told it was about 1,000 barrels per day.

Then BP upwardly revised its estimates a few days later… to 5,000 barrels per day, and that remains the official estimate.

But within the past few days, we've been treated to video of the actual spill from deep underwater…

And now we read this:

BP has said repeatedly that there is no reliable way to measure the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico by looking at the oil gushing out of the pipe. But scientists say there are actually many proven techniques for doing just that.

Steven Wereley, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at Purdue University, analyzed videotape of the seafloor gusher using a technique called particle image velocimetry.

A computer program simply tracks particles and calculates how fast they are moving. Wereley put the BP video of the gusher into his computer. He made a few simple calculations and came up with an astonishing value for the rate of the oil spill: 70,000 barrels a day — much higher than the official estimate of 5,000 barrels a day.

The method is accurate to a degree of plus or minus 20 percent.

Given that uncertainty, the amount of material spewing from the pipe could range from 56,000 barrels to 84,000 barrels a day. It is important to note that it's not all oil. The short video BP released starts out with a shot of methane, but at the end it seems to be mostly oil.

Lovely. 70,000 barrels is about 3,000,000 gallons of oil.  Per day.  The Exxon Valdez oil disaster, by comparison, was a total of 12 million gallons.

That is depressing enough, but when you couple it with this headline from National Geographic….

Gulf Oil Leaks Could Gush for Years

"We don't have any idea how to stop this," expert says.

…well, that just makes you want to cry.

I guess if we can't stop the leak, it doesn't really matter how fast the oil is coming out.  We just have to wait until the particular reservoir of oil underneath the sea bed gets tapped out.

How much oil is that?  Oh, about 50 million barrels (or 2 billion gallons).  Which comes out to about 160 Exxon Valdez disasters.