Jun 9, 2010 3:52 PM by Melissa Canone
WASHINGTON (AP) - The latest announcement on how much oil is
being captured from the gushing BP oil well on Wednesday raised
additional doubts about the validity of government estimates on how
much crude actually has been spewing into Gulf waters.
Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, who is in charge of the spill
response effort, said Wednesday that BP was now capturing 630,000
gallons a day and that the amount could nearly double by next week
to roughly 1.17 million gallons. But the government's estimate of
the total oil leaking has been 500,000 to 1 million gallons of
leaking every day.
Allen said he expects a fresh analysis of the flow rate to
produce more accurate estimates on how much oil is being released.
The inability to pin down how much oil is gushing from the BP
well a mile beneath the water's surface has stymied government
officials almost from the day of the accident April 20.
"I'm not going to declare victory on anything until I have
absolute numbers," said Allen on Wednesday.
At a Senate hearing, meanwhile, Interior Department officials -
like Allen - expressed confidence that more precise numbers on the
flow rate will be available from a special task force of
scientists, which is nearing completion of a review of earlier flow
data and has been provided new high-resolution video.
"We expect to have a much better estimate (of oil flow) very
soon," Deputy Interior Secretary David Hayes told senators at a
hearing by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
The task force earlier estimated that 500,000 to 1 million
gallons a day are flowing from the broken wellhead, but Hayes said
those numbers assume "a lot of uncertainty." Some independent
scientists long have said the flow is almost certain to be higher.
Meanwhile, Allen acknowledged that the amount of oil now being
captured is close to exceeding the capacity of the processing ship
that is on site. But he said a second vessel, where oil can be both
stored and flared, is expected to be available soon. And an even
larger vessel from the North Sea also is heading to the oil spill
With oil expecting to gush for another two months, Allen said he
wants a long-term containment strategy from BP "with built in
redundancies" that would taken into account new risks posed by the
upcoming hurricane season.
He said a huge, 1,000-foot-long vessel being brought in from the
North Sea is similar to a production platform that can "lock into
position" of the water surface and provide greater stability as it
processes oil flowing from the damaged wellhead.
Allen also noted that he and other officials are meeting with BP
later Wednesday to discuss problems with the handling of damage
claims related to the April 20 accident.
He said claims brought by individuals for loss of business as a
result of oil contamination "sometimes (is) hard to get a handle
on" but that he will discuss the issue with BP officials to try to
speed up the process.
Some senators, meanwhile, expressed concern over the impact the
response to the spill will have on oil development.
Testifying before the Senate energy panel, Interior Secretary
Ken Salazar sought to reassure lawmakers that the Obama
administration has pressed a "pause button, not the stop button,"
on all offshore oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico and elsewhere.
Salazar described the recent moratorium that President Barack
Obama put in place for offshore deep-water drilling, along with new
requirements for shallow water oil drilling. The moratorium affects
33 deep-water drilling rigs, but does not halt oil production from
existing production wells.
While many Gulf residents are reeling from the economic impact
of the oil spill on fishing and tourism, the region also relies
heavily on paychecks from the oil industry and these workers are
worried about their economic futures.
Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., told Salazar the drilling moratorium
threatens hundreds of oil industry jobs and could result in
"economic havoc" and be "devastating to our state and to the
Salazar said the administration wants to make sure that drilling
can be done in a way "that is protective of the people and the
Gulf region." He said the drilling pause will be in place "until
we can have a sense of safety, until we have a sense that this
(kind of spill) can never happen again."
At another hearing, the Senate Environment and Public Works
Committee took testimony on legislation that would raise the
federal oil spill liability cap from $75 million to $10 billion.
Kenneth Murchison, a law professor at Louisiana State
University, told the lawmakers there are "economic and more
arguments" for raising the cap. Holding back his emotions,
Murchison, born in Louisiana with deep roots in the state, said he
is "dismayed by the horrific damages" done by the oil spill.
Opponents of the cap increase argued that the federal limit does
not affect unlimited liability under state law, but raising it to
$10 billion would unfairly impact smaller oil companies.
At a separate House hearing, Robert Hartwig, president of the
Insurance Information Institute, said oil companies wouldn't be
able to get insurance to cover $10 billion in potential liability.
But Michael Greenstone, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology
economics professor, said the current $75 million cap encourages
oil companies to take shortcuts at the risk of safety.
"Firms and people behave differently when they are protected
from the consequences of their action," said Greenstone.