Newly released emails show that BP knew almost immediately how bad the spill could be and that the oil giant acted to explicitly keep the information to itself. The very day of the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon, the company modeled some projections of how bad the spill might be. Their total: 3.4 million gallons per day.
In other words, just hours after the spill, internal communications reveal that BP was fully aware that as much as 3.4 million gallons of crude oil was likely gushing into the Gulf of Mexico. (The current best estimate now rests at 2.4 million gallons per day.) But remember what the company told the public its best guess was, at precisely the same time? 1,000 barrels. Or, 42,000 gallons. These new emails offer compelling evidence that BP was, essentially, lying.
Here's the New York Times:
The e-mail conversation, which BP agreed to release on Friday as part of federal court proceedings, suggests that BP managers recognized the potential of the disaster in its early hours, and that company officials sought to make sure that its model-developed information was not shared with outsiders ...
In the string of e-mails, a BP official urged that the flow-rate projections not be shared and referred to the “difficult discussions” the company was having at the time with the Coast Guard. Gary Imm, a BP manager, told Rob Marshall, BP’s subsea manager in the gulf, to tell the modeler doing the estimates “not to communicate to anyone on this.”
To reiterate: BP had intelligence suggesting that 3,400,000 million barrels were spewing into the Gulf. But the company whittled that down to 42,000, because... well, because they knew they could get away with it.
As the Times points out, neither the federal government nor BP has ever revealed how it arrived at those initial 'estimates', but I'd wager that the fact that the spill's source was deep underwater and therefore difficult for the public to visualize had more than a little something to do with it.
So, BP employees had a standing order to clam up, to prevent the public from knowing what they knew. As a result, the public had little idea how bad things were going to be—until waves of oil washed ashore and drenched pelicans and sea turtles and started making everyone sick. And then BP, spurred on by activist scientists, NASA imaging, and angry citizens, would 'revise' its estimates ... until they more closely resembled the figure they first came up with just hours after the spill began.