BP's leaking oil well in the Gulf of Mexico was conclusively sealed this week, but even now, questions remain about the amount of oil that actually came out of it
Initially after the April 20 explosion, officials claimed that the flow could not be measured.
Then, as public pressure for information mounted, they looked for ways to measure it, and started producing estimates: at first, 1,000 barrels a day; then 5,000; then 12,000 to 19,000; then upward from there.
Now, in the first independent, peer-reviewed paper on the leak's volume, scientists have affirmed heightened estimates of what is now acknowledged as the largest marine oil accident ever. Using a new technique to analyze underwater video of the well riser, they say it leaked some 56,000 to 68,000 barrels daily--maybe more--until the first effective cap was installed, on July 15.
Their estimate of the total oil escaped into the open ocean is some 4.4 million barrels--close to the most recent consensus of government advisors, whose methods have not been detailed publicly. The paper appears in this week's early online edition of the leading journal Science.
"We wanted to do an independent estimate because people had the sense that the numbers out there were not necessarily accurate," said lead author Timothy Crone, a marine geophysicist at Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.
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