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03 August 2010

BP's Gulf Oil Leak Ranks as World's Worst Caused by an Accident

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BP Plc’s crippled Macondo oil well spewed 4.1 million barrels of crude into the Gulf of Mexico during the 87 days before it was capped, a team of scientists said, making it the world’s largest accidental offshore spill.

BP siphoned off an additional 800,000 barrels from when the well exploded on April 20 to when it was capped on July 15, the U.S. government-appointed group said yesterday in its latest estimate of the worst oil spill in U.S. history.

The Macondo spill exceeds the 3.3 million barrels that the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences estimated leaked from Mexico’s Ixtoc-1 well in the Bay of Campeche after a blowout in 1979. The world’s worst spill was in the 1991 Persian Gulf War when retreating Iraqi forces opened oil pumps, causing the release of 6 million barrels, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

“The number should be thought of as our best estimate,” Ira Leifer, a University of California, Santa Barbara researcher and one of the scientists on the team appointed by the U.S. Energy Department, said in a telephone interview yesterday.

The new numbers could be used to help determine how much London-based BP is penalized because federal law requires that companies that spill oil into the ocean pay a per-barrel fine.

The fine could range from at least $1,100 per barrel to as much as $4,300 per barrel under the Clean Water Act if gross negligence is found, according to an e-mailed statement from U.S. Representative Edward Markey, a Democrat from Massachusetts and chairman of the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming.

Based on the flow team’s estimates and using Markey’s figures, fines could range from $4.5 billion to $17.6 billion.


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