Remember back in the early days of the BP spill, when retired Adm. Thad Allen and BP were fueling the “official estimate” flow rate at 5,000 barrels a day? Remember how BP fought to first keep high-definition video of the spill secret, then releasing only small segments? And Allen had access to that video all the while. What else does the Admiral know that he hasn’t disclosed? Clearly, the idea was to pump dispersant directly at the well site, concealing the extent of the disaster. And it was Congress, not the Coast Guard, that finally forced the slightest bit of transparency.
But even in those early days, independent scientists were calling the spill information coming from BP and government officials utter nonsense. You may recall that a Purdue University associate professor named Steven Wereley was among them, using “particle image velocimetry,” an method of fluid visualization, to put the gusher estimate at about 70,000 barrels a day, plus or minus 20 percent given the limited video access he had. It was an outlandish fear-mongering figure, we were told by you know who.
But this week, new government experts are pegging the ever-growing “flow rate” at 62,000 barrels a day (2.6 million gallons), and that’s even a bit higher than the high-end of the most recent estimate of from 35,000 to 60,000 barrels. Of course, by hiding the evidence as long as it did, BP kept the extent of its damages trickling out over months.
The flow rate will be debated for years, but it’s a big-money number. The basic fine is $1,100 per barrel, and with these new estimates BP will be looking at about $4.5 billion. But if BP is found to have acted with “gross negligence,” then the penalty rises up into the $17 billion neighborhood.
But the flow question raises even bigger questions. If the government’s lead response official, Adm. Allen, would go along with those low-ball oil flow numbers, why should we trust him on any of the ongoing issues, like environmental health testing?
The pattern is easy to see: Once again, independent scientists are telling a different story on dispersant use from the one we’re getting from BP and Adm. Allen. And once again we’re going to discover that the threat was played down for the oil company’s benefit.
We’ve said it before, and let’s say it again: The too-cozy relationship between BP and government regulators got us into this mess, and in the case of Adm. Allen, it’s making this disaster worse, and we’ll only find out how much worse in the days and months and decades to come.