May 14th, 2010
08:53 AM ET
13 years ago

Congressman to launch inquiry on amount of oil gushing into Gulf

[cnn-photo-caption image= caption=" Rep. Edward Markey to launch inquiry on amount of oil gushing into Gulf ."]
(CNN) - A U.S. congressman said he will launch a formal inquiry Friday into how much oil is gushing into the Gulf of Mexico after learning of independent estimates that are significantly higher than the amount BP officials have provided.

A senior BP official, however, said the company stands by its estimate of 5,000 barrels leaking a day.

Rep. Edward Markey, a Democrat from Massachusetts, said he will send a letter to BP and ask for more details from federal agencies about the methods they are using to analyze the oil leak.

Markey, who chairs a congressional subcommittee on energy and the environment, said miscalculating the spill's volume may be hampering efforts to stop it.

"I am concerned that an underestimation of the oil spill's flow may be impeding the ability to solve the leak and handle the management of the disaster," he said in a statement Thursday. "If you don't understand the scope of the problem, the capacity to find the answer is severely compromised."

BP officials have said 5,000 barrels per day of crude, or 210,000 gallons, have been leaking for the past three weeks. The company reached that number using data, satellite images and consultation with the Coast Guard and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

"I think that's a good range," Doug Suttles, BP's CEO for exploration and production, told CNN Friday.

He said BP was focused on stopping the leak and over the next 24 hours, the company will be trying a new method of containment involving an insertion pipe inside of a riser where the oil is leaking. The tube will siphon the oil and send it up to a drilling ship on location instead of flowing into the ocean, Suttles said.

A previous effort to cap the gusher with a four-story containment dome failed when natural gas crystals collected inside the structure, plugging an outlet at the top.

"I think the people of the Gulf Coast here, what do they want from me?" Suttles said. "They want me to get this flow stopped and they want me to make sure we minimize the impact. That's what they want me to do.

A researcher at Purdue University said BP's estimate on the oil leak was very low. Associate Professor Steve Wereley predicted that about 70,000 barrels of oil per day are gushing into the Gulf after analyzing video of the spill.

Wereley said he arrived at that number after spending two hours Thursday analyzing video of a spill using a technique called particle image velocimetry. He said there is a 20 percent margin of error, which means between 56,000 and 84,000 barrels could be leaking daily.

"You can't say with precision, but you can see there's definitely more coming out of that pipe than people thought. It's definitely not 5,000 barrels a day," he told CNN.

Markey's statement said that officials from BP, Transocean and Halliburton estimated a worst-case-scenario maximum flow at 60,000 barrels a day during congressional testimony May 4.

More than 260,000 barrels of oil spilled during the 1989 wreck of the supertanker Exxon Valdez in Alaska's Prince William Sound.

Oil has been gushing into the Gulf since April, when an explosion sank the Deepwater Horizon drill rig. The blast left 11 workers lost at sea.

BP, the Coast Guard, and state and local authorities have scrambled to keep the oil from reaching shore or the ecologically delicate coastal wetlands off Louisiana. They have burned off patches of the slick, deployed more than 280 miles of protective booms, skimmed as much as 4 million gallons of oily water off the surface of the Gulf and pumped more than 400,000 gallons of chemical dispersants onto the oil.

Investigators are still trying to determine what caused the April 20 explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon.

BP has blamed drilling contractor Transocean Ltd., which owned the rig. Transocean says BP was responsible for the wellhead's design and that oilfield services contractor Halliburton was responsible for cementing the well shut once drilled. And Halliburton says its workers were just following BP's orders, but that Transocean was responsible for maintaining the rig's blowout preventer.

- CNN's Ed Lavandera contributed to this report.

Filed under: Congress • Ed Markey • Energy
soundoff (17 Responses)
  1. enough

    All smoke and mirrors...

    May 14, 2010 09:00 am at 9:00 am |
  2. get real

    No more big government! These companies should be left to regulate themselves. They would never mislead us or do anything to harm Americans, right? Go big multinational corporations!

    May 14, 2010 09:03 am at 9:03 am |
  3. Brian L

    LOL..... Republicans don't care about America all they want is their friends (Big Oil) to sell America's resources on the open market and rake in the most profits as possible..... Yes, it is true this oil being drilled in OUR Gulf is being sold on the global market (to mostly China) not to "secure" OUR nations energy independence.

    May 14, 2010 09:06 am at 9:06 am |
  4. Hennessy Black

    You can't believe that that BP would be seriously down grading the numbers!

    Would you?

    May 14, 2010 09:06 am at 9:06 am |
  5. Claudia, Houston, Tx

    11 oil workers presumed dead and BP can't stop the oil leak just doesn't make sense. CEO's of BP are incompetent and should be fired because it's their job to insure safety and the know how to fix problems instead of jetting around the world and taking million dollar salaries. What is their job?

    May 14, 2010 09:08 am at 9:08 am |
  6. Sam

    What difference does it really make at this point? Surely there are more important aspects to address.

    May 14, 2010 09:23 am at 9:23 am |
  7. Hugo

    Why can't they simply lower an explosive device to the sea floor atop the bore and detonate? With our knowledge of explosives a charge could be placed to permanently seal the bore hole, but then I guess BP would have a dry hole on their hands and lose all that potential money...

    May 14, 2010 09:27 am at 9:27 am |
  8. Clint Houston

    Hold their feet to the fire congress! Ms. Murkowski another prize from Alaska is blocking raising the liability limit on BP. The big opil shill from Alaska doesn't want to hurt Mom and Pop oil drillers....Momma BP and Poppa Shell is more like it.

    May 14, 2010 09:30 am at 9:30 am |
  9. Randy, San Francisco

    There is evidence that under the Bush administration oil companies were allowed to drill in the Gulf Coast without the required permits. Furthermore, Bush appointed political bureaucrats/officials ignored government scientists on the dangers of bypassing regulations or ignoring environmental impact studies.

    May 14, 2010 09:36 am at 9:36 am |
  10. t22

    Yes, let's find out a number which is meaningless and based on estimates and have BP focus on that to satisfy Congress as opposed to trying to stop the leak.

    Congress – find out what went wrong after they fix the leak!

    May 14, 2010 09:38 am at 9:38 am |
  11. Andagain

    Blah blah blah blah blah. This guy is full of hot air (gas?) and this will only cost us taxpayers MORE money. Where and when does it stop?

    May 14, 2010 09:41 am at 9:41 am |
  12. El Gordo

    I used to be a Liberal, but last night I had a dream in which an angel that looks exactly like Sarah Palin (except for the wings) came to me and hovered over my bed. The angel said, "I am the Spirit of Conservatism. I have come to reveal to you the truth of the free market.

    "There is no need for Satanic federal regulations. God's perfect economy regulates itself, thanks to the Invisible Hand of Adam Smith. The Gulf fishermen whose lives are ruined can now go to Arizona and pick crops. The Gulf will restore itself, as is God's will. In 50,000 years, all trace of the oil spill will have disappeared. BP's executives and accountants are busy transferring assets and getting ready for bankruptcy right now, so all is balanced and right.

    May 14, 2010 09:50 am at 9:50 am |
  13. stevegee

    How much oil is gushing into the Gulf of Mexico? Too much!

    We don't need another congressional inquiry - they're just forums for blowhard politicians. It would be far more productive if everyone's efforts focused on stopping the leak.

    Now they're trying a straw, but wouldn't it make more sense to put in a cork? Or, why can't we just blow up the well, and then wouldn't the ground collapse around the drill site, and stop the flow?

    May 14, 2010 09:50 am at 9:50 am |
  14. gt

    they need to get someone form a near by state to look into it,,, he is politiian who is aganist wind turbons in his own state,,,

    May 14, 2010 09:58 am at 9:58 am |
  15. Scottish Mama

    1. The government should be all over this now. President Obama get to the bottom, literally now. Even if they gave you money to campaign or to demacrats.
    2. How big is this tanker and how fast will it fill up, can it estimate the spill by how fast it fills up.
    3. If BP is lying about the ammount then they should have to pay extra penalties for fraud.
    4. No cap on cleanups. If it is found to harm the ecosystems for 21 years like Alaska, a yearly review to reevaluate the damage and cap paid again and again each year till the lands and the people affected made whole.
    5. No Mr. Suttles they don't only want you to stop the leak, they want restitution and you to clean the beaches.
    6. A professor Wereley says the estimate of 5000 gallons per day is way low and is 64,000 to 84,000, that is a big difference than what BP is touting.
    7. Each of these entities BP, Transocean, and Haliburton all share the blame and all need to pay the cap ammount max. Not equally but the top ammount all of them.
    8. Jingul? Hello where the hell are you? What is the ammount you have received from These entities? Are you qualified to help these people? If not move aside and find someone who can.

    May 14, 2010 10:21 am at 10:21 am |
  16. Erasmus

    Save the money on the inquiry and just look at the video of the geyser of oil exploding into the gulf. Somebody better hold the feet of BP, and the other two stooges who appeared before Congress, to the fire and get this cleaned up and paid for by them.

    May 14, 2010 10:24 am at 10:24 am |
  17. JM

    Oil floats straight upwards, once on the surface, then spreads laterally. As cows will scatter across a large field, until a fence is placed, why is there no system to create a floating "corral", with sides large enough to keep waves out,with bubble wrap blankets to alleviate wave action placed inside, and skimmers then all over the containment area? This to contain the oil within a small area, with the ability to let ships in and out at a common opening, with skimmers there to siphon any release...Also, why not put an inverted "funnel", easily made by pvc pipe and plastic sheeting, weighted, the then funnel the oil to a large enough pipe to extract and process the oil, this placed far enough above the hole to alleviate problems from the pressure...At some point, the oil column is very

    May 14, 2010 10:56 am at 10:56 am |