Today’s post is a departure from my usual writing, but it has math at its core. It’s not meant to be taken as a political statement, but you’re free to read into it what you choose. We’ll get back to more typical geeky topics next time.
As I right this, on Sunday morning, May 30, 2010, the world is learning the method known as top kill has not succeeded in stopping oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico. I initially found out about the failure of the latest attempt at stopping the the oil flow through a tweet. At 140 characters, I got the gist of the story, but it wasn’t until I had more details by reading a story from the Wall Street Journal that I decided to write this post. The story was called BP: No Certainty New Oil-Spill Effort Will Work. It was the first time I felt like I had enough information to do some basic calculations on my own and they don’t make sense.
Here are the 2 vital pieces from that story which I’d like to point out.
The failure of the top-kill effort followed frustrated attempts to activate the rig’s blowout preventer and install a containment dome above the leaking well, which is estimated to be releasing between 12,000 and 19,000 barrels a day into the Gulf.
In a statement, BP said that despite pumping over 30,000 barrels of mud in three attempts at rates of as much as 80 barrels a minute, the operation “did not overcome the flow from the well.”
Simple Math: Barrels per Minute
The first part of this story we’ve heard for weeks. The estimated number of barrels of oil spilling into the gulf was initially estimated at 5000 barrels per day. That estimate has crept up over time to its current estimate of 12,000 to 19,000 per day. Let’s assume the worst case scenario based on what we’ve been told by BP so far. 19,000 barrels of oil are spilling from this well.
Simple math allows us to know that 19,000 barrels per day = 791.66 barrels per hour = 13.19 barrels per minute.
13.19 barrels per minute is the worst case scenario of the oil spill in BP estimation. Fine. Let’s move on.
The second piece expert I posted above was new information to me. 80 barrels of pressure per minute in applied in the opposite direction was not enough to make the oil stop gushing out.
I realize I do not understand the complexities of the situation, but it seems that there must be more than 80 barrels of pressure per minute coming up from the oil well if 80 barrels of pressure per minute could not stop it. Does that sound reasonable?
More Simple Math: A New Calculation of the Spill Estimate
I’ll assume that there is 80 barrels of pressure pushing up from the leaking well for a little more simple calculations.
80 barrels per minute = 4800 barrels per hour = 115,200 barrels per day.
115,200 barrels per day.
Even More Simple Math
The Deepwater Horizon, the offshore drilling rig whose sinking marks the start of this event, sank on April 22, 2010. Today is May 30, 2010. There are 38 days between then and now. Let’s do more math.
38 days X 115,220 barrels per day = 4,378,360 barrels in total.
Could there really have been over 4 and a quarter million barrels of oil spilled in the Gulf of Mexico already? That’s a far different number than using BP’s worst case scenario numbers of 722,000 of spilled oil. (38 days X 19,000 barrels per day = 722,000 barrels in total.)
I hope my math is wrong. I admit that I don’t know everything BP knows about what’s going on with the well. I just have trouble making the information we’ve been told far add up.