Estimated rate of oil spill no longer holds up

By Steven Mufson and David A. Fahrenthold
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 21, 2010

One month after the start of a massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, federal officials said Thursday that oil was gushing out of the ground faster than they had estimated -- and that it would be days before they had a firm handle on the rate.

Officials initially put the flow at 5,000 barrels a day. But on Thursday, the oil company BP announced that it was collecting that amount through a tube inserted into a leaking pipe, and video from the seafloor showed oil still spewing from the pipe. BP said oil was also leaking from a spot a few yards away.

"Now, it's time to get better information," said Coast Guard Adm. Thad W. Allen, who is leading the federal response to the spill resulting from the explosion at the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig.

Allen said it might be several days before scientists come up with a new estimate. The government did not want to issue a new estimate and then have to revise it again, he said. Allen repeated what Obama administration officials have said for days: that the size of the leak would not affect their cleanup efforts, which are geared to combat "the worst-case scenario."

Also Thursday, the heads of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Homeland Security told BP chief executive Tony Hayward in a letter that the company had "fallen short" of its promises to keep the public and the federal government informed about the spill.

"BP must make publicly available any data and other information related to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill that you have collected," EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano wrote. They asked for the results of tests looking for traces of oil and dispersant chemicals in the waters of the gulf. BP did not respond Thursday to requests for comment about the letter.

Separately, the EPA told BP officials Wednesday that the company had 24 hours to choose a less toxic form of chemical dispersant to break up the oil spill and must apply the new form of dispersant within 72 hours of submitting the list of options.

The move suggests that federal officials are concerned that the unprecedented use of dispersants could pose a significant threat to the Gulf of Mexico's marine life. BP has been using two forms of dispersants, Corexit 9500A and Corexit 9527A, and so far has applied 600,000 gallons on the surface and 55,000 underwater.

A spokesman for Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) said that on Thursday, BP ordered 60,000 gallons of Dispersit -- a less toxic dispersant preferred by many environmentalists and lawmakers.

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