Real-time video of oil leaking from beneath the damaged Deepwater Horizon rig 5,000 miles under the Gulf of Mexico reveals a disaster many times greater than BP has led the American public to believe, Rep. Edward J. Markey, D-Mass., said today.
Calling the leak, the "greatest environmental catastrophe in the history of the U.S.," Markey said the video allowed independent researchers to assess the true nature of the devastation.
Many of those researchers today estimated that the real amount of oil spewing into the Gulf is many times greater than BP officials had insisted was true. As much as 40,000 to 100,000 barrels a day could be leaking into the water, said Tim Crone, a marine geology expert at Columbia University.
BP itself admitted that it is siphoning 5,000 barrels a day, the total amount that the company and the government long estimated had been leaking.
Obama administration officials today sent a letter to BP's CEO saying that the company had "fallen short" in its duty to keep the public and government officials informed about the spill.
"In responding to this oil spill, it is critical that all actions be conducted in a transparent manner," wrote Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and EPA administrator Shelia Jackson.
BP began streaming the live images from the ocean floor on government websites, including the sites of the Energy and Commerce Committee and the Select Committee on Energy Independence. Availability of the live stream has been sporadic today because of high web traffic.
"This may be BP's footage of the spill -- but it is America's ocean. What you see are real-time images of a real-world disaster unfolding 5,000 feet below the surface of the Gulf," said Markey, chairman of the Energy and Environment Subcommittee of the Energy and Commerce Committee.
"One of the major points that we should take away from this video is that the 5,000 barrels a day estimate that BP pushed all along is dead wrong," said Markey.
"Today, BP is claiming that they are siphoning off 5,000 barrels a day," he said. "But if you look at the video you can see plumes of oil spilling into the Gulf far in excess of 5,000 barrels a day. These videos stand as a scalding, blistering indictment of BP's inattention to the scope and size of the greatest environmental catastrophe in the history of U.S."
"Scientists have now found at least one plume underwater that is 10 miles long [and] 3 miles wide," Markey said. "That is beneath the surface and it could be heading towards that loop that could take it towards the Florida Keys and up through Palm Beach, [Fla.]."
Today, the Environmental Protection Agency announced that it is requiring BP to abandon the toxic and untested oil dispersant Corexit in favor of less toxic chemicals.
In a statement, the EPA said that BP would have 24 hours to find a less toxic alternative and would be required to begin using the new chemical within 72 hours of submitting the alternative.
BP has already dumped 700,000 gallons of the dispersant into the sea, and prior to the announcement, the company defended its use of Corexit after questions were raised about a corporate connection between BP and Nalco, the maker of the product.