BP lawyers dispute oil spill volume in attempt to reduce fine

oil spill gulf of mexico 2010

BP could save billions of dollars in fines if it succeeds in lowering the government's estimate of the Gulf oil spill. Image: uscglantareapa/flickr

Government estimates of the flow rate of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico 2010 are being disputed by BP. BP lawyers are saying the oil spill volume has been inflated. BP wants a lower flow rate estimate to lower its fine, which is based on the number of barrels spilled.

Uncertainty about oil spill flow rate

BP lawyers are arguing that the federal government overestimated the flow rate of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico 2010 by as much as 50 percent. This comes after the flow rate was underestimated by as much as 500 percent at first after the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded and sank. The uncertainty about the flow rate during the course of the oil spill disaster has given BP lawyers a window of opportunity to dispute the final conclusion that 206 million gallons spewed into the sea. The Associated Press reported that William K. Reilly, co-chairman of the presidential commission investigating the spill, “expressed amazement” at BP’s contentions.

Federal fine based on amount of oil spilled

BP’s legal chicanery is an attempt to save up to $10.5 billion, depending on whether the government decides the company is guilty of negligence or misconduct. The Clean Water Act sets fines of up to $1,000 a barrel for oil spills. If the guilty party is found to be willfully negligent, the fine could rise to $4,300 per barrel. Based on the government estimate of 206 million gallons, BP’s fines could be as high as $21.1 billion. When the BP oil spill began the flow rate was estimated at 1,000 barrels a day. Later it was 5,000 barrels a day. Eventually it was determined that 62,000 barrels a day were gushing from the well.

Flow rate blamed for failed capping attempts

Underestimating the flow rate of the BP oil spill may have prolonged the disaster. Attempts to plug the well, including a “top cap,” “junk shot” and “top kill” were doomed to fail because the techniques weren’t adequate to counter the pressure of the leaking oil. A report by the oil spill commission said if BP had accurate information about the flow rate, it would have rejected those approaches. The well was finally capped  with a combination of a “static kill” and a relief well that reduced the pressure of the leak.


Associated Press

Wall Street Journal


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