Saturday, May 22, 2010

Oil Spill: New Calculations on the Way

As I have mentioned before on this blog, there has been some controversy regarding just how much oil is spilling out of the Deepwater Horizon's broken riser pipe. Independent experts have estimated a much greater leak than BP has. Now the US government has convened an independent panel to settle the question.

The task force is being chaired by David Moore, a petroleum engineer who is coordinator of the national outer continental shelf oil spill program at the Minerals Management Service, and Catherine Cesnik, who leads the sustainable building policy for the Department of the Interior.

Among its members are Steve Wereley, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., who told Congress that, based on recent videos, he estimated that 95,000 barrels of oil per day were pouring from two different leaks.

In addition to Wereley, the panel will include other university researchers and representatives of the Coast Guard, the Minerals Management Service, the Department of Energy, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the U.S. Geological Survey.
One notable party that will not be on the panel is BP since the Obama administration seems worried about the estimate's credibility. The panel will try to take independent measurements:
Mike Lutz, a Coast Guard spokesman, said the team would study videos of the oil gushing from the leaks, as well as information about pressure and the ruined equipment on the sea floor. He said he didn’t have information about whether they’d use other equipment, such as sonar, to measure the flow.

Adm. Thad Allen, the commandant of the Coast Guard and the Obama's point man on the cleanup, said in an interview earlier in the week that government scientists might put sensors near the leak to get a better understanding of the amount of oil entering the water.
Having an accurate estimate of the size of the spill is important for deciding where and how much cleanup resources are needed. It may also have some bearing on compensation for losses as a result of the spill.

Meanwhile, the effect on wildlife is difficult to measure.
Repeatedly the officials said they were very concerned about gulf wildlife; that they could not predict how birds and fish and the like would be affected; and that they had no idea when they would know.

Yet the scientists at the news conference did seem to suggest that while the visible harm done is not too bad so far, we should not stop paying attention:

“The extent of the impacts are not known, but they are certainly significant,” said Ralph Morgenweck of the Fish and Wildlife Service, a senior science adviser and liaison officer at the Unified Area Command. “And we know they are certainly going to get worse.”

“No one should believe that because we have not recovered thousands of oiled wildlife,” the results are not very serious, he said.
Rescuers continue to find more oiled birds, only some of which they can rescue.

See also Nate's rant on the pathetic spectacle of the Interior Department's performance before and during the spill.