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Gulf oil spill: Spill rate could be more than 10 times previous estimate, BP says [UPDATED]

May 4, 2010 |  3:39 pm

BP officials Tuesday told congressional representatives that the Gulf of Mexico oil spill could grow at a rate more than 10 times current estimates in a worst-case scenario — greatly enlarging the potential scope of the disaster.

A handful of congressional Democrats and Republicans met with representatives from BP, Transocean and Halliburton in a closed-door briefing on Capitol Hill. Most walked away unimpressed.

A source who attended the meeting said company representatives had a “deer in headlights” look to them, and that the tenor of the conversation was that the companies “are attempting to solve a problem which they have never had to solve before at this depth … at this scope of disaster. They essentially said as much.”

“What we heard was worst-case scenario, with no good solutions,” said the source, who was not authorized to speak publicly about the meeting.

BP officials said the spill rate could be as much as 60,000 barrels (2.5 million gallons) a day far above the 5,000-barrel daily rate estimated up to now. At the higher rate of flow, the spill would surpass the amount leaked from the Exxon Valdez in a bit more than four days. That 1989 spill dumped 10.8 million gallons into Prince William Sound.

BP officials have said they have no way of measuring the actual flow from the spill.

[Update 5:10 p.m.: Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), who attended the meeting, blasted BP's changing estimates of the spill rate: "When they initially said that 1,000 barrels of oil per day was the limit of the exposure of risk, that was something that cast this entire episode in one light. When a week later they escalated that up to 5,000 barrels a day and perhaps even more, it’s pretty clear  the question they’re really going to have to answer is what did BP know and when did they know it – and when should they have known it? In terms of what was needed to put out that all points bulletin to ensure the damage to the gulf was minimal. BP will have a lot of questions they will have to answer.”]

-- Jim Tankersley

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