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. FU BP



    June 17, 2010 at 11:33 am | Report abuse |
  2. Unreal

    I'm wondering how many wells are actually contributing to this... one of BP's other platforms, the Thunder Horse, is pulling up 210,000+ barrels per day through 7 wells that all feed into one riser through a manifold. Was Deepwater Horizon operating in a similar configuration? Is this actually the combined output of multiple wells?

    June 17, 2010 at 11:33 am | Report abuse |
  3. Jnx

    It's more than 60,000 barrels/day. Try 100,000.

    June 17, 2010 at 11:42 am | Report abuse |
  4. Harry Anderson

    Offshore drilling must be BANNED permanently. It's just a matter of time before the other offshore oil rigs explode destroying the ocean permanently which will ruin the lives of our kid, grand kids, great grand kids. We need to look beyond our own short term oil needs.

    June 17, 2010 at 12:54 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Harry Anderson

    and shut these oil rigs down permanently.

    June 17, 2010 at 12:55 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Swampfox09

    For the record it is so blatantly obvious that Rep. Joe Barton, Rep. John Culbertson and last but not least Sen. John Cornyn of Texas are all in the pocket of big oil. Remember Cornyn was in charge of the investigation of Enron while he was Texas attorney general and at the same time receiving over $190,000.00 in campaign contributions from Enron.

    June 17, 2010 at 1:05 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Menachem Ben Yakov

    Obama supporters claim that the President is not responsible for the Gulf oil spill and that is true. However it should be obvious, and I hope Republicans are listening, that when Obama announced last March the opening up of new offshore drilling it was done without any due diligence. A thorough safety review of existing offshore platforms should have been done prior to the Presidents announcement. That review would have brought the problems on the BP rig to light and corrective procedures could have been taken. Once again the lack of managerial experience and the concept that any idea the President has is, ipso facto, a good idea , has caused the greatest environmental disaster in US history. Should BP be held accountable? Of course. Should the President be held accountable for not protecting the public? The answer is just as obvious.

    June 17, 2010 at 1:06 pm | Report abuse |
  8. SMAn

    My heart is broken knowing how much those poor animals are suffering and not knowing what is happening to them. It's just terrible, and all because we are a lazy, greedy nation that just won't break loose from petroleum. Trust me when I say this: the Gulf is dead and will be dead for a long, long time. It won't recover in our lifetimes and all of this because of our lust for oil...horrible.

    June 17, 2010 at 1:07 pm | Report abuse |
  9. The Zen Muse

    How about the BLAME the should be on the AMERICAN PEOPLE for all of our GREED of being such a consumer society. There is plenty of blame to go around.

    June 17, 2010 at 1:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mike

      blame americans for being a consuming society... tell me what country and people would not want to have more? Tell me what country and society would not want to live a more comfortable life... Just because America's gained great wealth doesn't make the people any different then anyone else... Zen Master. That's called jealousy.

      June 17, 2010 at 1:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mark

      I don't think I understand your statement about the greedy American society. I'm quite positive that BP is a British company based in London... Can you please clarify your point?

      June 18, 2010 at 3:54 am | Report abuse |
  10. Mike

    Isn't it amazing how Wall Street is EVIL and they will pay... how BP is EVIL and they will pay... How Iran, not so evil... we can't even call the people who want to kill us Islamic Terrorists... EVEN THOUGH THEY ARE!!! BP is at fault, had made mistakes but they are not evil. And as this situation evolved... where was our President? Golfing, playing basketball and enjoying dinner parties... This entire operation has displayed how incompitent this President is... and I'm sure our enemy's who would like to harm us are watching this.

    June 17, 2010 at 1:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • bubba

      i wonder what the odds are that hussein will be elected to a second term???

      June 17, 2010 at 2:30 pm | Report abuse |
  11. =(

    Well, we're boned.

    June 17, 2010 at 1:30 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Mike

    For eveyone that is mentioning the oil coming up on our shores... Uh, this could have been stopped. 14 countries offered to help... we didn't need their help even though they've dealt with oil spills more then we have... the governer requested several measures to limit the oil coming to land... nah, we'll wait it out. Does anybody wonder if this President has allowed the disaster to be greater for his own gain... to get cap and trade past... never allow a good oil spill go to waste.

    June 17, 2010 at 1:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • bubba

      right on mike..............you got it 110% right!!!!!

      June 17, 2010 at 2:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • RubixCubical

      Give me a break MIke. I'm sure you'll blame the outcome of tonight NBA finals on Obama's "agenda." Are you seriously crazy enough to think that Obama delayed or denied ANY viable solution for fixing this well? You think he cares more about Cap and Trade than the people of the Gulf? Short-sighted buddy. Where are these countries you speak of and what are their magical solutions? Even if there was technology out there to solve this mess, it is BP's responsibility to persue and fund those options. Now...have fun blaming the weather, your car payement, the guy who ran the red light, and that mysterious rash on Obama's agenda.

      June 17, 2010 at 3:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mark

      I agree with you Mike. BP and the United States government should have mobilized all potential resources to begin the remediation process from the beginning of the disaster, instead they took a wait and see what happens position. They waited and now we see the results. It's not going to get any better any time soon. The earth is bleeding and the Gulf of Mexico and beyond are going to die.

      June 17, 2010 at 3:43 pm | Report abuse |
  13. EastTXGirl

    Go to theoildrum.com and read some of the posts by Heading Out. There is a theory that the power of the sand flowing upwards with the oil and gas are causing erosion – eroding the rock surrounding the well and eroding the casing within the pipe. It's an educated guess as to why the estimates keep increasing. People commenting on TOD say it's gonna get worse – maybe way worse – before it gets stopped. In past posts from HO there have been comments about the pressure of this well and what the pressures of the relief wells might be – it concerns some educated folks.

    June 17, 2010 at 1:39 pm | Report abuse |
  14. bubba


    can anyone estimate the number of gallons in the worlds oceans???

    it s about as important as the estimate on how much oil is leaking into the gulf.

    just plug the damn hole!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    June 17, 2010 at 2:28 pm | Report abuse |
  15. RubixCubical

    Remarkable the comparisons between Katrina and this spill. I'm sorry, but there is a HUGE difference between the two.

    Bush failed to use available resources (i.e. the National Guard???) to help stranded and dieing victims in New Orleans. Natural disasters are supposed to have multiple contingency plans on a federal level and Bush's response was deplorable.

    Obama forced one of the most corrupt companies in the world to set aside $20 billion dollars to clean up their mess. Amazing! BP lied about their ability to fix this level of disaster and unfortunately the govt needed substantial proof to force their hand.

    Granted it took WAY too long to take action, but unless Obama rips open his suit and reveals a large red "S" , diving a mile under water to tie this well into a knot with his bare hands...haters will simply be haters. Multiple people in the gulf have said that when Obama is down there, stuff gets done (Anderson Cooper cited 12 companies on this). Why does he NEED to go down there to get things done??? Another example of large corporations looking out for their own fat wallets instead of their fellow man.

    June 17, 2010 at 3:26 pm | Report abuse |
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