Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Gulf Oil Spill Estimate Raised Again

Rehabilitators treat an oiled pelican / US Coast Guard photo

The official estimate for how much oil is leaking from the Deepwater Horizon's well continues to be revised upward. The current estimate is that 35,000 to 60,000 barrels of oil are leaking per day.
Chu said Tuesday's estimate was based on a variety of data, including new pressure readings taken within the last 24 hours from inside the "top hat" containment dome through which BP is now capturing crude.

The estimates include the crude BP is capturing.

Marcia McNutt, the director of the U.S. Geological Survey and the head of the Flow Rate Technical Group, said that the scientists would continue to revise the estimate as they get new data.
Remember that the initial estimate was 1,000 barrels per day, which was quickly revised to 5,000 barrels per day. Some independent estimates have put the leakage as high as 95,000 barrels per day, so it would not surprise me to see the official estimate rise as well. At least there is now a way to contain some of it until the relief well is completed:
BP has been capturing about 15,000 barrels a day for the past week aboard the Discoverer Enterprise drill ship, and hopes to expand that to 20,000 to 28,000 barrels a day this week. On Tuesday, a second vessel, the Q4000, with a capacity of 5,000 to 10,000 barrels a day, began capturing and burning oil, the joint government and BP information center said in a statement.

A third ship will allow the capture of 40,000 to 53,000 barrels a day by the end of June, BP hopes, before the addition of a fourth ship in mid July will complete the containment plan.
The trouble with having ships capture the leaking oil is that the operation is subject to disruptive weather, like hurricanes or lightning.
BP temporarily suspended the collection of crude oil from the runaway Deepwater Horizon well for nearly five hours Tuesday after a small fire was spotted at the top of the derrick of the Discoverer Enterprise drill ship.

In a statement, BP said the fire, which was extinguished, preliminarily was attributed to lightning that struck the ship at about 9:30 a.m. Central time. No one was injured, and recovery operations were resumed, BP said, at 2:15 p.m.
As the oil slick expands towards Florida's panhandle, there is increasing concern that the ecological damage seen in Louisiana's marshes could be repeated.
If oil creeping toward Northwest Florida pushes beyond the barrier island beach in the same consistency of ooze that has tarred Louisiana's delta marsh, scientists fear the impact could be felt for years, maybe decades -- and not just here in this small pocket of wetlands. The effects could potentially ripple across a complex and interconnected Gulf ecosystem that stretches hundreds of miles south into the Florida Keys....

Though shrunken by rampant coastal development and compromised by urban pollution, salt marshes, sea-grass beds and mangrove forests still survive along much of Florida's Gulf Coast. They're critical to the health of commercial and sport fishing and at the top the state's priority list for protection.

With a massive floating island of oil looming off Florida's coast, the estuaries in Perdido and Pensacola bays are at imminent risk.
The American Bird Conservancy has provided this map of the Important Bird Areas that could be affected by the oil spill. Click through for a full sized version.

Finally, it is important to remember that the harm to wildlife comes not just from the initial contact with oil but also from lingering toxins in the food chain.