New BP Spill Analysis Reveals that 185 Million Gallons of Oil have Leaked

bp oil leak underwater photo

Photo: BP
BP Oil Spill Post-Mortem
A team of U.S. scientists from Columbia University has just published a paper about a review of video footage from the BP oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico last Spring and Summer. Using a technique called "optical plume velocimetry" and other analysis techniques, they were able to estimate how much oil escaped the Macondo well between April 20th and the moment the leak was plugged on July 15th (with final confirmation that the well was stable only on September 19th). So what's the magic (tragic?) number?
bp oil leak underwater photo

Photo: BP
Oil Spill Flow Rate Estimates
The analysis suggests that during the first part of the spill, before the riser pipe was removed on June 3rd, that the rate was of 56,000 barrels of crude per day. This increased to 68,000 barrels/day after the riser was removed, and the oil leaked at that rate until the well was finally plugged.

All of this adds up to about 4.4 million barrels of crude oil (185 million US gallons) if you substract the 800,000 barrels that BP captured. Otherwise, the total number would be 5.2 million barrels!

Of course, this is an estimate. It's impossible to have a high degree of certainty:

The researchers stress their figures have a large uncertainty of perhaps 20%, but they compare well with the 4.1 million barrels estimate produced by the federal government's Flow Rate Technical Group (again, taking account of the 800,000 barrels recovered by BP).

Remember, the Exxon Valdez super-tanker spilled 260,00 barrels... So the margin of error of the BP spill is bigger than the whole Exxon Valdez disaster. This puts things in perspective.

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