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Gulf oil leakage could worsen if measures to stop the flow fail, executives say

Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 4, 2010; 6:28 PM

Under a worst-case scenario, the flow of oil into the Gulf of Mexico from a damaged offshore rig could rise to 40,000 barrels a day — eight times the current estimated leakage — oil-industry executives told members of Congress on Tuesday.

Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) said that the estimate was prompted by a question: What might happen if BP fails to cap the flow of oil from the well or funnel it through a giant steel box and pipe? He said the executives responded that, in a worst-case scenario, that oil could gush out at rates ranging from 10,000 barrels to 60,000 barrels a day, with 40,000 being the most likely in such circumstances.

The estimates were given in a meeting between lawmakers and executives from BP, Transocean and Halliburton — all companies connected to the damaged rig. Three of the executives were in Washington, and three others spoke on phone links from the gulf region.

The members of Congress also asked about the “loop current” that some analysts believe could carry the oil slick to Florida and up the Atlantic coast, but Markey said that the oil executives had no analysis of that possibility.

The oil company executives reiterated that they had not believed any backup was needed for the blowout preventer and that they had not believed the drilling rig could sink.

“I’m of the opinion that boosterism breeds complacency and complacency breeds disaster,” said Markey. “That in my opinion is what happened.”

Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), chairman of the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, plans to hold a hearing May 12 on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig explosion and oil spill.

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