New Estimate Bumps Oil Flow to as Much as 40,000 Barrels a Day

One of the government's scientific teams tasked with estimating the rate at which oil is flowing out of the burst well have announced a new figure: Between 20,000 and 40,000 barrels a day are spewing out, according to one team that analyzed video. Within that range, the best estimate is 25,000 to 30,000 a day. This puts the BP gusher on par with the 1979 IXTOC 1 blowout, also in the Gulf of Mexico, which created a spill dwarfed only by the destruction of Kuwaiti rigs during the Persian Gulf War. That team previously had set a lower bound on the flow at somewhere between 12,000 and 25,000 barrels but hadn't looked at the high end rate until now. The Washington Post has more:

If the team's estimate is correct, and the flow has been more or less consistent, approximately 1.3 million to 1.5 million barrels, or 53.6 million to 64.3 million gallons, of oil have emerged from the well since the April 20 blowout. That is roughly five to six times the amount spilled in Alaskan waters in 1989 by the Exxon Valdez.

A second team had estimated a flow of 12,000 to 19,000 barrels a day using calculations based on satellite images and how much oil has evaporated or been skimmed, burned, and dispersed. They have raised their estimate to between 12,600 and 21,500 barrels.

A third "reservoir modeling" team plans to calculate the flow rate based on the pressure at the bottom and its geologic particulars; a fourth team will do the same based on "input from reservoir modeling" and detailed geometry of the well, and both teams will announce their estimates later this month, according to the government.

A fifth estimate, from a team led by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, employed undersea robots to take acoustic data before and after the riser was cut. They came up with a maximum flow of 0.23 cubic meters per second, or 19,872,000 liters or 125,000 barrels daily, but this is a bulk outflow that includes mud, water, and gas as well as oil.

For more on the gulf oil spill, see our full coverage.