BP Plc said it is capturing 1,000 barrels of oil a day from a mile-long pipeline connected to its leaking well in the Gulf of Mexico, about a fifth of the estimated flow rate.
“We’ll be ramping this thing up over the next 24 hours,” Doug Suttles, chief operating officer for exploration and production for London-based BP, said on NBC’s “Today” show. “We can actually get 5,000 barrels a day up that pipe if we can capture it and keep the water out,” he said.
As a headline, this sounds good, but given BP's refusal to share information about the rate of flow from its leaking well, it's impossible to know whether this represents a PR victory for BP or meaningful progress on containing the gush of oil.
BP claims to be sucking up one thousand barrels per day, but what we don't know is how many barrels per day are now escaping around the siphon and from the second leak site. Before the siphon was deployed, the official estimate was 5,000 barrels of oil per day, but experts have universally dismissed the official estimate as too low, estimating that between 25,000 and 80,000 barrels per day have been flooding the Gulf.
If the total flow from the leak hasn't changed since the siphon was inserted, then we're talking about a 20% reduction from official estimates or a reduction between 1% and 3% from independent estimates. If the flow has changed, the reduction would be higher. The question is: how much higher?
To determine how effective the siphon is, we need to know three things:
- What would the flow be without the siphon? (Unless the flow rate is dynamic, this would be the rate of flow before the siphon was inserted.)
- How much oil is sucked up by the siphon? (BP says this is one thousand barrels per day.)
- How much oil is escaping from the second leak and around the rubber seals of the siphon?
Knowing these numbers is essential to understanding whether BP merely achieved a PR victory or if it has accomplished something significant. BP's refusal to disclose the total flow of oil, makes me suspicious that siphon is not having much impact, but it proves nothing. If they would be more transparent and allow public access to the information in their possession, we'd have a much better idea about what's going on, but they continue to deny access to information.
Their official position is that it doesn't matter whether or not we measure how much oil is leaking into the Gulf because the only thing that matters is stopping the flow. They say they don't want to be distracted from plugging the leak, but while that has some rhetorical resonance, it's utter rubbish.
Case in point: they've somehow found time to market the hell out of their attempt to siphon the oil, even though they say it won't stop the flow. They say it will reduce the flow...but from what? And to what?
Unless BP opens itself up to outside scientific scrutiny, we may never know the truth.