BP spill released more than 200 million gallons into Gulf, officials say


— BP’s outlaw well released more than 200 million gallons of oil before
it was capped, government officials said Monday, as the company
prepared to stuff the well with dense mud in preparation for a final
seal later this month.

The new figures, described as the most accurate to
date, place the size of the BP spill in the upper range of earlier
estimates, affirming the disaster’s ranking as by far the worst
offshore oil spill in U.S. history.

Based on pressure measurements from the capped well
and new modeling, science teams believe that the deep-sea leak
initially poured 62,000 barrels of oil a day into the gulf. As the leak
depleted the well’s underlying oil reservoir, the rate fell to a daily
flow of 53,000 barrels just before the well was corked with a
mechanical cap in mid-July.

All told, experts say about 4.9 million barrels of
oil, or 205,800,000 gallons, gushed from the well. Not all of that
tainted the gulf, as containment efforts captured about 33 million
gallons and funneled them to oil ships.

With the cap in place, BP is embarking on a series
of carefully calibrated steps this week to plug the well in advance of
permanently sealing the well with cement.

After detecting a small leak in the capping system,
engineers postponed until Tuesday the start of a “static kill”
procedure that involves pumping heavy drilling mud through the well
top. If it works as planned, the dense material will shove the oil down
the well’s pipe system into the reservoir miles beneath the seabed.

Expected to take several days to complete, the
process will fill the well with mud. But federal officials continued to
say Monday that even then, they will probably not write the well’s

“I don’t think we can see this as the end all, be all, until we actually get the relief wells done,” said retired Adm. Thad Allen, who is overseeing the federal response effort.

It is possible that the final shot of cement could
be pumped into the well from the top at the end of the static kill
procedure. But it is more likely, Allen said, that the first of two
relief wells being drilled will be used to inject cement into the
bottom of the original well, smothering it sometime in the next week or

In the first phase of the static kill, now slated
for Tuesday, BP will run “an injectivity test” to see how the well
holds up when material is pumped into it. Pressure at the top of the
well will be carefully monitored to make sure it does not rise to
dangerous levels.

If that goes well, a surface ship will start slowly
pumping dense mud, weighing 13.2 pounds per gallon, into the well. How
long that process takes and how much mud is needed will depend on the
oil’s location in the well system.

Oil could have seeped up through the drill pipe, its
casing, the space between the pipes and the edge of the drill hole — an
area called the annulus — or all three. If oil is in all three places,
it could take more than two days to fill them with mud, Allen said.

And it will not be until the relief well bores into the lower portion of the original well, sometime between Aug. 10 and 15,
that engineers can be certain all of the oil’s upward paths have been
blocked. “We’re going to need the final step of drilling into the
annulus and making sure that the mud effort from the top got everything
done. I don’t think we will know that until we come in from the
bottom,” Allen said.

In the meantime, controversy continues over one of
the tools BP used to keep the oil offshore. Especially in the early
stages of the three-month leak, the company made extensive use of
chemical dispersants to break the oil into smaller bits that would
rapidly dissolve and degrade.

But that raised questions about the dispersant’s
toxicity and the degree to which it would speed the uptake of oil into
the gulf’s ecological webs.

Monday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
released a second round of test results that the agency said showed
that oil treated with dispersants was no more toxic than untreated oil.

“I think that probably shows us … the oil itself is the hazard we’re concerned about,” Paul Anastas, the EPA’s assistant administrator for research and development, said in a news briefing.

In tests, researchers exposed juvenile mysid shrimp and an estuarine fish called the inland silverside to oil and dispersed oil.

Anastas said the EPA had not turned up any evidence that dispersants or their byproducts were traveling up the food chain.

Still, Robert Diaz, a marine scientist at the College of William and Mary, said the long-term impact of dispersants on marine life and the gulf environment remains unclear.

With some gulf waters reopening to commercial fishing, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and other state officials demanded Monday that BP fund a $173 million,
long-term seafood safety and marketing plan that would include testing
samples of shrimp, crab, oysters and fish each month in all coastal

“The key to consumer confidence is comprehensive
testing,” Jindal said during a news conference held on a steamy fishing
dock in Venice, La.
“We need to be able to demonstrate, based on hundreds of samples every
month, that this continues to be the safest seafood you can get
anywhere in the country, anywhere in the world.”

“The future of this industry is in peril,” the
officials wrote in a letter to BP executives. “The image of oil and
dispersants will be difficult to overcome without science to back up
our claims.”


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