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2010-05-21

BP Acknowledges Oil Spill Is Larger Than Previous Estimates

Guests

Rick Steiner, Alaskan marine biologist who has been spending time in the Gulf region. He’s a former University of Alaska fisheries extension agent.

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The British oil company BP has been forced to admit the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is far larger than the company initially said. On Thursday, BP said it’s now capturing 5,000 barrels of oil a day from the leaking pipe — the same amount it had previously said was leaking every day. BP has declined to estimate how much oil is still escaping, but scientists say BP is siphoning just a fraction of the total leak. Independent scientists say the leak could be as large as 95,000 barrels of oil per day. We speak to Alaskan marine biologist Rick Steiner, who has been spending time in the Gulf region. [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZALEZ: The British oil company BP has been forced to admit the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is far larger than the company initially said. On Thursday, BP said it’s now capturing 5,000 barrels of oil a day from the leaking pipe — the same amount it had previously said was leaking every day.

BP has declined to estimate how much oil is escaping, but scientists say BP is siphoning just a fraction of the total leak. The McClatchy Newspapers report BP’s low estimate could save the company millions of dollars in damages when the financial impact of the spill is resolved in court. Independent scientists say the leak could be as large as 95,000 barrels of oil per day.

On Wednesday, Democratic Congress member Ed Markey questioned Purdue professor Steve Wereley about the size of the leak.

    REP. ED MARKEY: What is the chance right now, as you look at it, you and the other experts who have analyzed this brief video that you’ve been allowed to view — what is the likelihood that BP is accurate?

    STEVE WERELEY: I think there’s no — I don’t see any possibility, any scenario, under which their number is accurate.

    REP. ED MARKEY: BP just now sits over there, and the media keeps using 5,000 barrels per day —-

    STEVE WERELEY: Yeah.

    REP. ED MARKEY: —- as though that is the number, when you’re saying, scientifically, there is no chance of that being the number.

    STEVE WERELEY: Yeah, there are — so I think we have four or five scientists who have used different methods to come up with numbers that are considerably different from the number that BP is using.

AMY GOODMAN: In other news about the oil spill, the Environmental Protection Agency has ordered BP to start using less toxic chemical dispersants in the Gulf. Over the past month, BP has used about 650,000 gallons of the chemical Corexit, made by the Illinois-based company Nalco. The chemical is banned in Britain, and scientists have questioned its effectiveness compared to other dispersants. Some scientists worry the chemicals currently being used might make the spill more harmful to marine life.

To talk more about the BP oil spill, we’re joined by the Alaskan marine biologist Rick Steiner, who’s been spending time in the gulf region. He’s a former University of Alaska fisheries extension agent.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Rick. Talk about the dispersants —-

RICK STEINER: Thank you, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: —- and also how much of this oil is going to the Gulf and how significant this is.

RICK STEINER: Well, briefly, I think we’re just starting to get a good understanding of the enormity of this thing. It’s no longer the Gulf of Mexico; it’s the Gulf of Oil. And, you know, if you use the upper estimates right now, there could be 120 million gallons that have spilled already, but certainly more than the six million gallons that has been estimated. And that’s been known for quite a while.

The dispersants are toxic. The combination of the dispersant with the oil is a compounded toxicity greater than either the dispersion of the oil in isolation, and plus it pushes the oil down off the sea surface into the water column, exposing the vast pelagic ecosystem to contamination. Plus, we’re also very worried about the subsurface plumes that we know form from these deepwater blowouts. You know, I don’t think a lot of the oil, or maybe even most of it, has yet to surface. So we have — we have a real catastrophe on our hands down there in the Gulf right now.

And, you know, the response to it, shuffling the MMS around, you know, and splitting it into three different sub-agencies, well, that shows, you know, that they get that there is a significant problem here in federal oversight, but it sort of papers over some of the more substantive problems. It’s still going to be the same people, you know, making the policies, you know, and deferring to revenues and production over protection, so there’s problems there.

But also, let me say that, you know, if the only thing that we fix out of the Deepwater Horizon disaster is offshore drilling safety and federal oversight of it, then we’ve missed the real lesson. We certainly need to do that, if we’re going to stay drilling offshore. And that seems pretty evident. I don’t think they want to pull all the rigs in. But other things we need to do, as well, are, you know, find some — make some tough choices about areas offshore that we do not want to expose to this kind of risk and extreme environment, and that would include the deep ocean and the Arctic Ocean.

And then, finally, this thing really brings home the true costs of oil — you know, the environmental costs of spills and the healthcare costs of breathing the atmospheric pollution, the wars to secure oil supplies, climate change, etc. So we need to use this event to catalyze a rapid transition to sustainable energy. A number of us had hoped Exxon Valdez would do that years ago. It didn’t. All we got out of that was safer tankers. Here, if the only thing we get out of the Deepwater Horizon is safer offshore drilling rigs, we’ve missed another golden opportunity.

AMY GOODMAN: Rick Steiner, thank you very much for joining us, marine conservation specialist, professor at the University of Alaska, specialist on oil spills from, as he put it, the Gulf of Oil, the Gulf of Mexico to the Exxon Valdez in Alaska.

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