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Spill possibly worse than estimated

Sat., May 15, 2010

NEW ORLEANS – Just how much oil is spewing from the ruptured well in the Gulf of Mexico?

Some scientists who have studied a new video of the gusher estimate the leak could be 14 times worse than the government says.

Soon after the explosion three weeks ago, the government said oil and gas were flowing from the seabed at a rate of 210,000 gallons – or 5,000 barrels – a day. Now, after viewing the video BP released Wednesday, some scientists calculate it at 2 million gallons a day or even higher.

President Barack Obama weighed in Friday. “I know there have been varying reports over the last few days about how large the leak is,” he said, “but since no one can get down there in person, we know there is a level of uncertainty.”

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration declined efforts by the Associated Press to explain its 210,000 gallon-a-day estimate, except to say “NOAA made an estimate of flow rate based on aerial observations.”

Both Eugene Chiang, a professor of astronomy at the University of California, Berkeley, and Timothy Crone of Columbia University said the spill falls somewhere between 840,000 gallons and 4.2 millions gallons a day.

“It’s the same feeling you get when someone asks you how many jelly beans are in a jar,” Chiang said. “I’m confident enough in it to say it is well above 5,000 barrels a day” – equal to more than 210,000 gallons daily.

Crone agreed the flow was almost certainly much higher than the government’s estimate.

For their estimates, the scientists essentially tracked particles or billows of oil across the video screen, then used the size of the pipes, particles and speed of the video to come up with a rate.


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