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Another (Sigh) Increase in Estimate of Oil Flow

The estimated size of the oil spill in the Gulf rises yet again, to 25,000 to 30,000 barrels a day. BP says it’s hard to measure flow, but in 2008, it touted technology that it said was accurate at doing so.

As we’ve pointed out, there has been a steady stream of criticism for the official estimates on the amount of oil coming from the geyser under the Gulf of Mexico. Even when initial estimates of 1,000 and 5,000 barrels were shattered by the second round of official estimates, 12,000 to 19,000 barrels, the criticism did not abate.

And for good reason. The latest official estimates place the spill at double even that rate – 25,000 to 30,000 barrels a day. As The New York Times points out, that’s means a spill the size of the Exxon Valdez is dumping into the Gulf every eight to 10 days. And that measurement was made before the pipe was cut to allow placement of a cap to recapture some of that oil: BP and other officials have said the cut could have increased the flow by as much as 20 percent. (The cap is apparently capturing about 15,000 barrels a day.)

Officials at BP have said repeatedly that the size of the spill is not what’s important, just cleaning it up is all that matters. They’ve also said it’s just too tough to get an accurate measure.

But in 2008, BP felt differently. According to Mother Jones, BP was touting in a company magazine (PDF) its “expertise of flow measurement,” and how it had successfully used a sonar device to measure the flow of oil through pipelines. From Mother Jones:

This technology is "proving its worth in the company’s operations around the world," the article says, noting that BP "has pioneered the introduction of a new and very useful tool into the wider oil industry."

BP and the government have insisted they are on top of this disaster, but with continued evidence emerging that there are many tools for measuring spill size, but that both have yet to use them, it’s tough to believe.

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