BP Math vs Simple Math

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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.

Comments on this post.

Great Post! A very interesting take and I’m sure you’re right. In my travels across the news blogs & sites, I’ve read that the reason why BP underestimated how many barrels of oil are spewing out is so they are only liable for 5,000 a day. They’re trying to skew perception. They’re going to get fined for each drop, according to the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 (passed after the Exxon-Valdez spill, which actually WAS a spill, not an underwater volcano.) They’re trying to get out of paying all that money. So, there’s that.

The other thing, or at least the excuse they’re making, is that they were basing the estimates on satellite photos and the amount of oil they could see on the surface. The reality is that there are 22 mile long oil plumes gathering underwater and those are gonna be impossible to remove.

All I know is that the Oil Volcano looks like the Smoke Monster on LOST. Just as scary and demonic. They should get Jack or Desmond to put the cork in it.

By Monika Kehrer on Jun 01 2010

Today, June 8, I heard on CNN that BP’s initial ‘worst case’ estimate for an oil spill from this well was 100,000 barrels per day. That was filed before drilling began on the well.

By John Morton on Jun 08 2010

Yes, the truth is slowly coming out. This great article in Rolling Stone also shows a photo of a white board with notes written hours after the April 20th explosion. Someone wrote:  64K - 100K barrels of oil per day.


They knew. BP wants to avoid the $4,300 per gallon they’re gonna be fined when this is all over!!

By Monika Kehrer on Jun 09 2010

Today, June 15, 2010, the NBC Nightly News reported that there is now an estimate of 2.5 million gallons of oil are being released per day into the gulf. There are 42 gallons of oil in a single barrel. That means we’re now at an official estimate of 59,523.8 barrels per day. That’s not the 115,000 my simple math added up, but this isn’t over yet unfortunately.

By John Morton on Jun 15 2010

As of today, June 21, we’ve not got a new leaked BP memo pegging the worst-case scenario for the oil spill at 100,000 barrels per day.

Here’s an excerpt from the Reuters story (link: http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSN1416392020100621 ) :

The oil giant’s stock, which has nearly halved in value since an explosion on an offshore rig on April 20, slid over 4.0 percent after the document estimated the rate at 100,000 barrels per day (15.9 million liters) versus the government estimate of 60,000 barrels.

By John Morton on Jun 21 2010

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