Unexpectedly Intriguing!
June 7, 2010

BP Logo Contest Entry It's a simple question. And unfortunately for the people of British Petroleum and the federal government, one whose answer has resulted in a considerable amount of self-inflicted damage to both the company's and the Obama administration's credibility. That damage sits on top of the liability the company and country faces as a result of the explosion in the deep water drilling rig that resulted in one of the largest oil spills in U.S. history.

The reason why is because the company has continually and reluctantly had to revise its estimates of the amount of oil being spilled dramatically upward on several different occasions, as it has become obvious that the amount of oil leaking from the company's Deepwater Horizon drilling rig has far exceeded what it was claiming was being leaked.

ABC's John Allen Paulos reports:

How much oil has leaked into the Gulf of Mexico? Many, including BP, have made estimates and remarked on the difficulty of determining the answer.

As Steve Wereley, an engineering professor at Purdue University, has shown, however, and as many others would have shown had pictures of the leak been released earlier, an approximate estimate is quite easy to come by and indicates a vastly greater oil spill than BP has admitted....

Wereley said that the leak may be 20 percent more or less than his best estimate, but it's still far, far above the 5,000 barrels per day that BP kept proclaiming until very recently -- about 20 times as great.

Drilling Rig Geometry and Flow Data
Input Data Values
Drilling Rig Pipe Diameter [inches]
Flow Rate [feet per second]
Time [days]


How Much Oil Is Being Spilled?
Calculated Results Values
Gallons of Oil Being Spilled
Barrels of Oil Being Spilled
Barrels of Oils Being Spilled per Day
Wereley's best estimate suggests that the amount of crude oil being leaked into the Gulf of Mexico from the BP rig is somewhere in the neighborhood of 70,000 to 90,000 barrels per day.

As Paulos notes, the method Wereley is using to determine his estimate is based upon the math for calculating the volume of a cylinder, which makes it really simple to determine the amount of oil that might have leaked from the drilling pipe.

So we converted that simple math into the tool below, which you can use to keep one step ahead of both BP and the government for better estimating the amount of crude going into the Gulf of Mexico. We've put in Wereley's estimates as the default data, but you're more than welcome to replace the figures with your own estimates or more accurate figures, either for this spill or perhaps for another spill altogether.

Using the default data, we estimate the amount of oil exiting the main drilling pipe break to be approximately 74,027 barrels per day. That figure does not account for any of the oil recovered through the steps BP has taken to reduce the amount of oil entering into the Gulf of Mexico, nor does it account for other leaks in the pipeline.

We'll close the post by noting the steps that BP's top leadership and its employees will be taking to address the damage to the company's credibility and reputation:

As yet, there's no word of any similar effort being undertaken by the Obama administration to repair the damage to their own credibility and reputation.

Image Credit: We selected the image above from the entries contributed to Greenpeace UK's "Behind the Logo" contest.

Disclaimer: While they may run a cute contest, we do not endorse supporting Greenpeace UK given the organization's ethical conflicts.

Update 7 June 2010: Our original default data for the diameter of the drilling pipe was incorrect - we had indicated the outer diameter of the pipe of 21.0 inches, rather than the inner diameter of 20.0 inches that would define the "cylinder" of oil.

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