Gulf Leak Worst in US History

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So now it’s official. As many feared, the Gulf Oil oil spill is the worst the US has ever suffered. No wonder BP has been trying to keep the officialdom and scientists away from it as long as possible…..

From the Washington Post (hat tip reader Marshall):

As crews pumped mud at a furious rate into the damaged blowout preventer that sits on the uncapped well at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico, a group of scientists said the amount of oil spewing into the ocean is much greater than originally believed….

U.S. Geological Survey Director Dr. Marcia McNutt said at a news conference Thursday that two teams of scientists, using different methods, have preliminarily determined that between 17 and 27 million gallons of oil have gushed into the ocean so far.

Yves here. That puts the daily flow at 12,000 to 19,000 barrels, versus the 5,000 party line from BP. Note that the Exxon Valdez total was roughly 11 million gallons.

The good news is at least so far, the top kill appears to be working.

More commentary from Bloomberg:

“Now we know what we always knew — this spill is much larger than BP has claimed,” Congressman Edward Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, said today in a statement. “What’s clear is that BP has had an interest in low-balling the size of their accident, since every barrel spilled increases how much they could be fined by the government.”

Oh, but BP now denies ever having made an estimate:

“We haven’t made any estimates of the flowrate from the well,” said David Nicholas, a BP spokesman in Houston. “What we’ve always said is that no matter what the estimates would be, our approach to this incident would be exactly the same. We’re trying to stop the flow of the well.”

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    1. Timmy

      can’t tell. since they haven’t been honest about the size of the leak.

      But this is definitely the biggest marine oil spill in the past 30 yrs and bigger than anything that ever happened in the US.


      Incidentally, it seems deepwater horizon case is an exactly rerun of Ixtoc I, barring few detail. Which should tell you that we haven’t really solved deep water drilling problem.

      “At the time of the accident Sedco 135F was drilling at a depth of about 3,600 metres (11,800 ft) below the seafloor.[4] The day before Ixtoc suffered the blow out and resulting fire that caused her to sink, the drill bit hit a region of soft strata. Subsequently, the circulation of drilling mud was lost resulting in a loss of hydrostatic pressure.[5] Rather than returning to the surface, the drilling mud was escaping into fractures that had formed in the rock at the bottom of the hole. Pemex officials decided to remove the bit, run the drill pipe back into the hole and pump materials down this open-ended drill pipe in an effort to seal off the fractures that were causing the loss of circulation.

      During the removal of the pipe on Sedco 135F, the drilling mud suddenly began to flow up towards the surface. Normally, this flow can be stopped by activating shear rams contained in the blowout preventer (BOP). These rams are designed to sever and seal off the well on the ocean floor; however in this case drill collars had been brought in line with the BOP and the BOP rams were not able to sever the thick steel walls of the drill collars leading to a catastrophic blow out.”

  1. Debra

    So now we see that threatening BP with fines (among other punitive approaches… don’t get me wrong, I am NOT defending BP, I am dumping on the exclusive use of the stick approach in our society..) encourages opaque prevarication.
    Should we be surprised at this ??
    Amazing that U.S. society has enshrined a model that seems to encourage people squaring off in corners.
    And NOW we are crying in our beer that cooperation is not happening ?
    You reap what you sow.
    WHEN are we going to stop enshrining this model and BELIEVING that it is all the human species is capable of ?

    1. NOTaREALmerican

      Re: WHEN are we going to stop enshrining this model and BELIEVING that it is all the human species is capable of

      This isn’t a serious question I hope. Humans are motivated ONLY by the 4 F’s of life: food, fear, fighting, and sex.

      American society is the PERFECT realization of the 4 F’s. Why would we want to change perfection?

  2. Timmy

    I for one opt to panic now, altho’ the most important part of the accident has been handled -capping the leak, supposedly. and I want to see the damned video stream- the next big one is still ahead. What to do with all those oil in the water.

  3. NOTaREALmerican

    I predict (I’m going out on a limb here, but I predict):

    1) We can have a bigger one. This is American, we can always do better.
    2) Nothing will change.
    3) The Republicrats will continue to rule.

    (I know, I know, pretty bold. But I’ve always been good at predictions).

    1. MyLessThanPrimeBeef

      NOTaREALAmerican, it’s more a problem with Homo Not-So-Sapiens Not-So-Sapiens, and is not really confined to America alone.

  4. jbmoore

    Nope, Ixtoc-I was still a worse spill in the Gulf. However, the effect of the Ixtoc-I spill on US shores was mitigated by distance ( Yes, BP underestimated the flow rate by half. Is that a surprise considering that BP has a track record of environmental negligence. They also have a bad safety record. They’ve killed at least 26 employees and contractors in the last 5 years alone. BP ordered the removal of mud from the hole over the objections of the drillers. That act alone was the cause of the blowout and spill. Transocean may be found liable because they either damaged the BOP or installed a defective one, but if BP had not overruled the drill team, the accident would not have happened in the first place. It will be interesting to see where all this winds up legally. Unfortunately, oil companies tend to win reductions on damages and liabilities from oil spills, such as Exxon and Exxon Valdez spill. It would be better if they were made to divest of their US holdings as a consequence of their actions. Such a penalty might make the other oil companies a bit more careful regarding safety and environmental damage in the US.

  5. Peter Schaeffer

    Don’t attach too much precision to these numbers… However, EnviroWonk lists the largest spills in history (

    1. Saddam in Kuwait – 520 million gallons.
    2. Ixtoc in Mexico – 100 million gallons. Notably, same drilling company (Transocean) as the current disaster.
    3. Trinadad and Tobago tanker spill – 90 million barrels.
    4. Russian pipeline leak – 84 million gallons.
    5. Persian Gulf tanker collision with a drilling rig – 80 million gallons.

    I have seen some reports that the fine for spills is $100 per gallon. Works out to $1.7 – $2.7 billion. According to Econombrowser (, the market expects (as of May 5th) the spill to cost BP more than $20 billion.

  6. Doc Holiday

    Why is the media and government/Bp so F’ing slow to come this amazingly easy conclusion? I did the 4th grade math two weeks ago and now this is news?? Duh… just wait a few weeks for the real story to float.

  7. Camilla

    NY Times is now reporting “BP had to temporarily stop its effort to plug the well when engineers saw that too much of the fluid they were injecting into the well was escaping along with the leaking crude oil.” So looks like the top kill isn’t working so well….

    1. NOTaREALmerican

      Relax, You just need to think like a male for a few days. Everything will be fine.

      Dude, we got this under control, dude. Right?
      Totally dude, everything’s find dude, we’re on it, dude.
      Yeah, see? it’s all cool. Yeah, Don’t worry, our best people are working on this. Like, totally dude.

      (See how easy that is. And after the next hurricane season, all the oil will be gone too. Dude, no problems. Hey, dude, you think we can drill in deeper water? Dude, that would be SOOOO coool dude. I bet we can. Dude, I’m in dude.)

      1. Roger Bigod

        I hear ya. Dude, you are so totally from Mars. Just remember, only weenies think about the downside. And never, ever ask for directions.

    2. Rex

      I haven’t had time to follow all the latest developments today, but I think that NYT quote is distorted information.

      The last I heard, the top shot had worked well. They were stopping the mud pumping to see if they had enough mud down the hole for the blockage to be stable without further mud pumping.

      Looking at the video feeds yesterday, it appeared that only mud (not oil mixture) was coming out of the broken riser holes, which was good news. Lots of mud had to come out — that was part of the plan.

      I think that quote is another example of the media getting the facts wrong. As least I hope so.

      1. Rex

        Replying to my own post…

        Now I have read some of the latest posts on the Oil Drum site, which seems to have very knowledgeable posters.

        I guess the NYT post may be more correct than I thought. Seems the riser leaks are too big and most of the mud is just going out there, not down into the well. That seemed logical to me a few days ago when I was trying to understand how it could work. Yesterday I thought they were pumping enough mud that it was going down even with the big leaks.

        Latest posts seem to imply that they need block the leaks to get enough mud into the hole to stop the oil.

        It does sound like more bad news.

        1. K Ackermann

          When they suspect they have enough mud down hole, they will slowly decrease rate to the point where no flow will be seen at riser leaks.

          Zero flow has to be established for the cement plug to be attempted.

          The junk shot has to work because they cannot overcome the pressure otherwise. We might be riding this one out until the relief well is successful. The relief well is not an automatic thing. It took 5 attempts to plug the blowout off Australia.

  8. MarcoPolo

    @ Glenn


    and there is a similar article on Bloomberg. Now we know what we were asking. Why would anybody displace mud with pressure anomalies indicated? You called it suicidal. These articles suggest that maybe the BP people wanted I done over RIGs objection but perhaps the RIG people thought they could avoid problems with the BOP (which didn’t work).

  9. mespilus

    How does the idea of cooling off on a nice oil soaked beach with dead birds, fish, and petro fumes sound ? BP executives likely live in London. In common with their big corporate and banker cadres, they have already been massively paid out as a reward for cutting corners. They could care less if they destroy a fixed asset like BP, or the Gulf of Mexico for that matter. If you have been to London recently, you may notice a baby boom . The CEOs and bankers made huge bonuses of late, and went home like stallions. Meanwhile, the rest of us were too busy arguing wither the earth is flat to notice we were being robbed.

    1. Timmy

      Send them gulf shrimp. If it doesn’t pass British health inspection, de facto they are violating health standard.

  10. Richard

    I’m liking the Chinese method for dealing with executive malfeasance more every day. Simply send the top 11 BP execs to the firing squad. You’d be surprised how rapidly engineering safety standards would improve.

    Since we don’t believe in capital punishment for anyone with a 6 figure income or above in America, perhaps we could help revive the Gulf seafood industry by simply requiring them and their families to live on a diet of oil-braised Gulf shrimp and fish for 20 years while they pay their debt to society in prison.

    1. srvbeach21

      I’ve been pretty surprised that side of the story hasn’t gotten more play in the press. Seems like it has it all – sex, drugs, corruption, etc.

      1. srvbeach21

        Oops…replied to the wrong thread. My comment was in response to Doc Holliday’s post.

  11. Doc Holiday

    Bush organization in bed with oil, drugs and corruption…

    The reports portray a dysfunctional organization that has been riddled with conflicts of interest, unprofessional behavior and a free-for-all atmosphere for much of the Bush administration’s watch.
    The investigation also concluded that several of the officials “frequently consumed alcohol at industry functions, had used cocaine and marijuana, and had sexual relationships with oil and gas company representatives.”


    Published: September 10, 2008

    1. Skippy

      Doc Holiday said…The investigation also concluded that several of the officials “frequently consumed alcohol at industry functions, had used cocaine and marijuana, and had sexual relationships with oil and gas company representatives.

      Gezz Doc you’ve gone all soft, in the days of old you would have commented *too* the effect, its just old fashioned_IN-house_H-OOR-house_with the bonus of being all above board for tax purposes, free lube is bonus.

      Skippy…Only in America…

  12. V

    As an outside observer of this I would have to point out that BP’s high leak estimate is higher than any of the released estimates, so I can’t see how they can really be accused of covering up details.

    Why does the media circus turn these things into a number guessing event rather than address the real issues.
    It seems pompous the way in which the USA consumes huge volumes of oil per capita compared to other countries in order wheel around its obese population in automobiles. I mean you talk about a driving ‘season’!

    The reality is what’s going to happen after this is over and Congress sees no more political capital out of grandstanding over the issue?
    Put money on nothing, you’ve already seen this outcome play out over financial ‘reform’.

    Interesting how despite all the spills in recent history.

    Suddenly everyone begins to discuss it now.

    How much did the world media really care about the recent spill in Africa?

  13. r dalton

    Why oh why don’ t they set bop #2 on top of the other one (open ) then pump mud down as they close the bop and kill the well . The casing must be heavy enough to withstand the well pressure plus or why would they use it in the first place ??? Don’t think the Gulf can stand two more months worth of oil being pumped into it. BP, give it a try , you can do it!!!

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