Here’s a perfect illustration of why BP doesn’t want the outside world — that would be you, me and Uncle Sam — to have a halfway accurate estimate of the amount of oil gushing from the Deepwater Horizon disaster site. It has something to do with the perceived corporate benefits accruing from fooling some of the people some of the time.
On Sunday, BP managed to insert a narrow tube into the broken pipe that is spewing oil into the Gulf. So now part of that oil is being captured:
After more than three weeks of efforts to stop a gushing oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico, BP engineers achieved some success on Sunday when they used a milelong pipe to capture some of the oil and divert it to a drill ship on the surface some 5,000 feet above the wellhead, company officials said.
After two false starts, engineers successfully inserted a narrow tube into the damaged pipe from which most of the oil is leaking.
“It’s working as planned,” Kent Wells, a senior executive vice president of BP, said at a briefing in Houston on Sunday afternoon. “So we do have oil and gas coming to the ship now, we do have a flare burning off the gas, and we have the oil that’s coming to the ship going to our surge tank.”
Mr. Wells said he could not yet say how much oil had been captured or what percentage of the oil leaking from a 21-inch riser pipe was now flowing into the 4-inch-wide insertion tube.
What is delightfully absent from this NYT account is any mention of the quantities of oil involved. Is the amount now being captured anywhere near a significant percentage of the total quantity that has been gushing into the Gulf? This success we are being invited to celebrate with BP, is it a huge success or so small as to hardly make any difference to the spill rate?
BP would very much prefer that nobody is in a position to make any kind of informed assessment.
The NYT‘s silence on the subject of quantities and percentages can actually be viewed as a form of journalistic integrity.
BP is shamelessly putting out a 20% number that is apparently based on the thoroughly discredited official estimate of 5,000 barrels a day as the spill rate. Evidently, it doesn’t matter a bit how thoroughly it has been discredited. As long as it hasn’t been replaced by an updated official estimate, BP feels ethically justified in continuing to use it. (Which, if you live anywhere in the vicinity of the real world, tells you when you may expect to see BP conceding that the spill rate is significantly higher than 5,000 barrels a day.)
And it’s not just BP. Some news outlets are perfectly happy to repeat that number without any ifs or buts.
BP America President Lamar McKay told the committee that his company’s engineers are collecting roughly 20 percent of the oil and gas leaking from a pipe at the bottom of the gulf, using a mile-long pipe connected to a tube that is siphoning the oil to a tanker on the surface.
(I don’t know about you, but I’m very impressed by how many official spokesmen BP has, and how many top-brass executives. It’s almost like every story I read quotes a different spokesman and/or a different member of the top brass from any that has come before.)
BP said that it was now capturing about a fifth of the oil gushing from the ruptured well after a suction tube had been inserted into the well riser pipe on the ocean floor.
It has, though, occurred to a few news outlets that they are allowed to report BP’s numbers, and then put a question mark around it.
The Wall Street Journal offers us:
BP said Monday it hopes to double to 2,000 barrels a day the amount of oil it is siphoning through a pipe inserted into the leaking well during the weekend. BP’s estimate is that the well is leaking at a rate of 5,000 barrels a day, but a number of scientists have questioned that figure, saying that the flow could be as much as five times that rate.
That only rates a B-, though. In view of the fact that scientists have said the flow could be almost seventeen times that rate. (That’s based on NPR/Steven Wereley‘s 70,000 barrels a day plus or minus 20%.)
The Christian Science Monitor does a lot better:
The siphon is collecting 1,000 barrels of oil a day – roughly one-fifth of the oil leaking from the wellhead, by BP’s estimates, though some scientists suggest the amount of oil leaking in the Gulf oil spill could be much greater.
(That embedded link takes you to a story which says: “National Public Radio cited estimates from three independent scientists who say at least 50,000 barrels of oil a day are flowing into the Gulf waters.”)
But for every The Christian Science Monitor, there’s a The Wall Street Journal. And a Times (UK) or AOL News. Which makes it well worth BP’s while to keep everyone in the dark for as long as possible.