Friday, May 14, 2010

Lies, damned lies and government estimates

A 5,000-barrel-a-day oil spill in the Gulf?

Scientists look at the spill, look at that number and say BP and the government are full of beans. Slimy, oily, polluted beans.

The questions are not new. In fact, those doubts are just as longstanding as the government's -- and the media's -- insistence upon using the 5,000-barrel estimate, which a government agency, according to a New York Times report, basically pulled out of its butt:

Two weeks ago, the government put out a round estimate of the size of the oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico: 5,000 barrels a day. Repeated endlessly in news reports, it has become conventional wisdom.

But scientists and environmental groups are raising sharp questions about that estimate, declaring that the leak must be far larger. They also criticize BP for refusing to use well-known scientific techniques that would give a more precise figure.

The criticism escalated on Thursday, a day after the release of a video that showed a huge black plume of oil gushing from the broken well at a seemingly high rate. BP has repeatedly claimed that measuring the plume would be impossible.

The figure of 5,000 barrels a day was hastily produced by government scientists in Seattle. It appears to have been calculated using a method that is specifically not recommended for major oil spills.

Ian R. MacDonald, an oceanographer at Florida State University who is an expert in the analysis of oil slicks, said he had made his own rough calculations using satellite imagery. They suggested that the leak could “easily be four or five times” the government estimate, he said.

“The government has a responsibility to get good numbers,” Dr. MacDonald said. “If it’s beyond their technical capability, the whole world is ready to help them.”

Scientists said that the size of the spill was directly related to the amount of damage it would do in the ocean and onshore, and that calculating it accurately was important for that reason.

BP has repeatedly said that its highest priority is stopping the leak, not measuring it. “There’s just no way to measure it,” Kent Wells, a BP senior vice president, said in a recent briefing.

Yet for decades, specialists have used a technique that is almost tailor-made for the problem. With undersea gear that resembles the ultrasound machines in medical offices, they measure the flow rate from hot-water vents on the ocean floor. Scientists said that such equipment could be tuned to allow for accurate measurement of oil and gas flowing from the well.

Richard Camilli and Andy Bowen, of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, who have routinely made such measurements, spoke extensively to BP last week, Mr. Bowen said. They were poised to fly to the gulf to conduct volume measurements.

But they were contacted late in the week and told not to come, at around the time BP decided to lower a large metal container to try to capture the leak. That maneuver failed. They have not been invited again.

“The government and BP are calling the shots, so I will have to respect their judgment,” Dr. Camilli said.
IF YOU HAVE the formulas to come up with a better flow estimate, and you have outside experts offering equipment to better analyze the spill rate but still you refuse to employ the better mathematical formulas -- just as you blow off scientists' offers of analytical assistance -- the public is pretty much left with a single conclusion to draw.

The people in charge of this thing
don't want to know how bad this oil spill is. More precisely, they don't want us to know how very screwed we are.

That's how
junkies operate. Dope . . . oil . . . it's all the same when you're good and hooked. When the last thing you're interested in is kicking the habit.

OUR ADDICTION is going to kill us.
But it's going to kill Louisiana first.

Not that we care to know about any of that.

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