Scientists Criticize Administration’s Report on Oil Spill
The Washington Post has a great story today that raises questions about the rosy assumptions included in an Obama administration report on oil released into the Gulf of Mexico unveiled yesterday by the White House.
The story suggests that the administration exaggerated the actual results of the report. Here’s how the Post’s David Fahrenthold summarizes the results of the study:
Of the 4.9 million barrels (205.8 million gallons) that poured out of the well, only 827,000 barrels were siphoned to vessels on the surface. Where did the rest of it go? Where there had been mystery, now there was a pie chart.
It showed that 5 percent of the total oil had been burned and that 3 percent had been skimmed off the surface. An additional 25 percent had evaporated or dissolved. About another quarter had been “dispersed” — broken into tiny droplets by chemicals or by the force of being blasted out of the well.
These numbers don’t seem to jive with comments from White House climate and energy adviser Carol Browner. Fahrenthold notes, quoting Browner:
An initial assessment showed that “more than three-quarters of the oil is gone. The vast majority of the oil is gone,” she said. At best, the report shows that three-quarters of the oil could be on its way out: It does not say that it has vanished.
On top of that, Fahrenthold finds a number of scientists, including some who worked on the report, to raise questions about the assumptions made to come up with these figures.
But scientists who worked on the report said many of the numbers on the White House’s pie chart had significant margins of error. The estimate of how much oil evaporated was calculated using a formula designed for spills near the surface, not 5,000 feet underwater. The calculation of how much oil would be “dispersed” as it flowed from the well was a new one, extrapolated from data about the way oil is broken by waves.