June 15th, 2010
11:45 PM ET

How the oil-disaster flow estimates have evolved

U.S. government officials on Tuesday said they now estimate the ruptured BP well in the Gulf of Mexico is spewing 35,000 and 60,000 barrels (1.5 million gallons to 2.5 million gallons) per day; that's significantly more than the first estimate of 1,000 barrels per day in late April.

Below is a recap of the different estimates that officials have made, and when they made them, since the disaster began with the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig on April 20.

- April 23: Three days after the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig, and one day after the rig sank, Coast Guard Rear Adm. Mary Landry said crews were cleaning up a 1- by 12-mile-long oil slick spreading through Gulf waters. She said crude oil did not appear to be leaking out of the wellhead but that remote vehicles would survey the scene. BP officials had said a day earlier that BP they did not know whether oil or fuel was leaking from the rig. But BP Vice President David Rainey said: "It certainly has the potential to be a major spill."

- April 24: Landry said oil was leaking from two places - later to be clarified as two places on the riser pipe extending from the well's blowout preventer - at a preliminary estimate of about 1,000 barrels (42,000 gallons) a day. Officials later said that the two leaks were found within 36 hours of the April 20 explosion.

- April 28: Landry said the estimated amount of oil spilling into the Gulf of Mexico has increased to 5,000 barrels (210,000 gallons) a day, five times the initial estimate. The new estimate was based on analysis from the federal National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, she says. Also, BP official Doug Suttles said the company has found a third leak in the riser pipe.

- May 2: Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Thad Allen said it was impossible so far to know how much oil will eventually leak.

"We lost a total well head; it could be 100,000 barrels [4.2 million gallons] or more a day," Allen told CNN's "State of the Union." The official estimate, though, remained at 5,000 barrels (210,000 gallons) a day.

"This spill, at this point in my view, is indeterminate," Allen said. "That makes it asymmetrical, anomalous and one of the most complex things we've ever dealt with."

- May 13: After BP released underwater video footage of the leak, independent experts such as Purdue University associate professor Steve Wereley said the flow rate is probably much higher than the official estimate.

Wereley estimated that about 70,000 barrels (2.94 million gallons) of oil were leaking each day, based on an analysis of video of the spill. "You can't say with precision, but you can see there's definitely more coming out of that pipe than people thought," he said. "It's definitely not 5,000 barrels a day."

- May 27: A panel of government experts estimated the well is spewing oil at a rate of 12,000 to 19,000 barrels (504,000 to 798,000 gallons) a day, U.S. Geological Survey chief Marcia McNutt said.

- June 10: The panel of government experts, called the Flow Rate Technical Group, estimated the well was leaking 20,000 to 40,000 barrels (840,000 to 1.7 million gallons) per day through June 3. The figure was calculated in part by using high-definition video that BP released after demands from members of Congress.

The new estimate was of the well's flow rate before BP's cutting of the damaged riser pipe extending from the well's blowout preventer on June 3, McNutt said. After BP cut the riser that day, it placed a containment cap over the preventer's lower marine riser package to capture some of the leaking oil.

Scientists estimated that the spill's flow rate increased by 4 to 5 percent after the well's riser pipe was cut last week in order to place the cap atop the well.

BP said that with the cap, it was capturing about 16,000 barrels daily and sending it to a ship on the surface. Before that, BP was capturing some oil through a siphon inserted into the well riser.

- June 15: Government officials increased the estimate to between 35,000 and 60,000 barrels (1.5 million gallons to 2.5 million gallons) per day.

The change was "based on updated information and scientific assessments," the Deepwater Horizon Incident Joint Information Center said.

"The improved estimate is based on more and better data that is now available and that helps increase the scientific confidence in the accuracy of the estimate," it said.

soundoff (141 Responses)
  1. makom8

    There are several massive oil reservoirs under the gulf. I am also thinking that the hundreds of oil rigs are drawing off of the same massive oil reservoir. Say that there are 100 oil rigs drawing oil off the same source. The pressure of the oil reservoir will be divided among the 100 wells. Now if you shut off 99 oil wells and leave one oil well open; The pressure coming from the open oil well will be a lot greater than before.
    So by shutting down all the oil wells in the gulf what have we done? Let me explain this. While all the oil wells were open it was like we were running water out of a drinking straw. Now with only one well head open it is like a fire hose at full blast. So now ask yourself , "Who is to blame for this huge disaster".

    June 17, 2010 at 10:09 am | Report abuse |
    • Kyle

      It was a new field and no other wells have been drilled into it. Only new drilling is being stopped (except the relief wells) not current production

      June 17, 2010 at 11:00 am | Report abuse |
  2. sara

    and man shell destroy the earth!

    June 17, 2010 at 10:12 am | Report abuse |
    • russ

      what does this have to do with crustaceans?

      June 17, 2010 at 12:05 pm | Report abuse |
  3. MACT

    It is worth remembering that at least three independent scientists were estimating 50-100K barrels a day weeks ago based on the video. They were uniformly dismissed by both BP and the government as being 'wildly unrealistic'

    June 17, 2010 at 10:12 am | Report abuse |
  4. seattlite

    Based on the pressure drop of 6000psi and the viscosity and temperature of the oil the flow rate should be about 120,000 bbl / day. The pipe is now kinked and some of it is being collected. The flow rate may be as much as 120,000 bbl / day. B.P. wants to minimize the estimates and disperse as much as possible because the fines are based on the amount spilled.

    June 17, 2010 at 10:13 am | Report abuse |
  5. Will R. Poterfield Jr.

    why is everyone so SURPRISED? we live in a "CAPITALIST/MARKET" economy right? do I have to say anymore? isn't it obvious the goal is to MAKE money and INCREASE the BOTTOM LINE so CEO's get to sit under an umbrella with a drink with an umbrella too?? What environment? What safety measures? What people lost their livelihood.... Ahh HELLO! again the object is to MAKE money all these measure "consume money"... wake up PEOPLE!!! the CEO's with their umbrella's in their drink are not going anywhere for a couple of generations..... unless there is a revolution and we look deep within ourselves and cherish and think about why people came to this great nation? unless we take that for granted it will be all money, money, money!!!

    June 17, 2010 at 10:16 am | Report abuse |
  6. bailoutsos

    $20 BILLION in escrow? I bet Congress start tapping that money for their pet projects.

    June 17, 2010 at 10:16 am | Report abuse |
  7. The one the only..

    The whole thing is a waste of time. It's a lot of oil. Too much! Clearly. Drop the explosives and implode it now. Stop the spill. It would be cheaper and less damaging to just re-drill it.

    June 17, 2010 at 10:22 am | Report abuse |
  8. mattski

    Hey the FRTG isn't making hard and fast promises of flow rate, they're giving it their best estimate. Would you rather they not?

    June 17, 2010 at 10:25 am | Report abuse |
    • FU BP

      This is why we do not know how bad this thing really is:


      June 17, 2010 at 11:31 am | Report abuse |
  9. Jay Alt

    Once again. The 12 – 19 K bpd estimate from NOAA on May 27 was a lower bound, a low-end estimate. Few news reports included the qualification made by scientists – their estimate was based on surface measurements and did not include plumes.

    June 17, 2010 at 10:27 am | Report abuse |
  10. seattlite

    An explosion would make the well totally uncontrollable. Oil wells are fragile to start with. Even capping this well might cause it to rupture below the surface and send it out of control. There needs to be a ban on all drilling and pumping of oil. Fossil fuel is an ongoing disaster under the best of conditions.

    June 17, 2010 at 10:30 am | Report abuse |
  11. Mark from Atlanta

    Maybe now other oil companies will take notice and make the BLOWOUT PREVENTER the top priority instead of the ACTUAL DRILLING. Then again... maybe not.

    June 17, 2010 at 10:44 am | Report abuse |
  12. Timeonics

    BP should provide the ground penetrating radar pic of below the ocean floor then they can show just how much
    oil is leaking into the Gulf. The gov't should demand this, then everyone will know how much oil is pouring into the ocean.

    June 17, 2010 at 10:46 am | Report abuse |
  13. Dr. Evil

    Maybe they should put the estimate up to... *Holds pinky finger up to mouth* ONE MILLION BARRELS... what... what... oh... *Holds pinky finger up to mouth* ONE BILLION BARRELS!

    June 17, 2010 at 11:15 am | Report abuse |
  14. bailoutsos

    "Oil hits Fort Walton Beach, FL" (CNN) -- Huge amounts of tar balls 135 miles from well.

    June 17, 2010 at 11:15 am | Report abuse |
  15. bailoutsos

    rigzone DOTcom/news/article.asp?a_id=64897 - Good article about the Republicans trying to pressure Democrats to lift the offshore drilling moratorium in 2008.

    June 17, 2010 at 11:26 am | Report abuse |
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