WASHINGTON- Officials in charge of the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill based their decisions on flawed information,said one scientist Monday before the presidential commission investigating the disaster.
“It's quite clear that BP used estimates quite different from the internationally agreed numbers,” said Ian MacDonald,Professor of Oceanography at the Florida State University. He referred to the modestly low number of barrels BP said spewed into the gulf every day.
The original estimate used by the oil company and government officials was set at 1,000 barrels a day,and then increased to 5,000 in the following weeks.
According to MacDonald's written testimony,these numbers were calculated using a system based on the thickness of oil in the water measured in microns. The different thicknesses of oil range from a very thin “sheen” to dull and dark-colored thicker oil. By finding the area affected and multiplying that number by the thickness,the volume of oil is found.
“It turns out that BP was using a standard of two microns for dark oil,” MacDonald said.
In a guide conforming to the International Bonn agreement on measuring oil pollution at sea,the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's standard for dark oil was 200 microns.
Using similar data as BP and the NOAA's 200 micron standard for dark oil,MacDonald's initial estimate was a minimum of 26,5000 barrels were discharge daily,more than five times BP's estimate.
John Amos,president of Skytruth.org,shared NASA satellite images with MacDonald as they collaborated to reach that estimate.
“I wanted to be wrong,” Amos said about the surprise of discovering the staggering difference in calculations. He spread the findings through his blog and Twitter.
As it turned out,their numbers were still contentious. The Flow Rate Technical Group,a group of government-backed scientists,later found the rate to be closer to 62,000 barrel a day. Because they used satellite images,MacDonald and Amos were only able to based their calculations on the surface oil. According to Amos,half of the oil never made it all the way up to the surface.
“We came pretty close. We were at least in the same ball park,” Amos said
Thad Allen,the National Incident Commander for the Unified Command,said in his statement to the OSC that even if the numbers were wrong,they did not affect how the situation was handled.
“As those estimates came out,I noted them,but they weren't consequential to the decision-making I did because we knew this thing had the potential to be much larger than it was,” Allen said.
Former Senator Bob Graham and William K. Reilley,Commissioner Co-Chairs of OSC,said they were not easily inclined to believe Allen or other BP officials with similar comments.
“It's a little bit like Custer,” Graham said. He underestimated the number of Indians that were on the other side of the hill and he paid the ultimate price for that.”
In an interview,Graham discussed the May attempt of a containment cap known as top hat. “It ended up being a failure,” he said,”It has been said to me because it was designed for a much lower flow rate.”