BP Oil Leak Rate Called 8 Times Worse Than Earlier Estimate

Worst spill in U.S. history prompts worries about BP's solvency.

ByABC News
June 10, 2010, 6:31 PM

June 10, 2010— -- Oil is flowing out of BP's leak in the Gulf of Mexico at a rate eight times faster than officials previously acknowledged, raising worries that BP's containment efforts can do little to fight a spill that already may be six times the size of the Exxon-Valdez disaster.

The initial estimate following the disaster pegged the rate at 1,000 barrels per day. Next, BP and the federal government maintained for weeks that the flow was 5,000 barrels per day.

Today a federal task force assigned to examine the rate came up with a far different number -- a likely flow of 20,000 to 40,000 barrels per day before the riser pipe was cut.

According to the highest estimate, some 87.3 million gallons of crude have leaked into the Gulf so far, far worse than BP and the government's previous worst-case scenarios.

While the government and BP had since bumped up their estimates from the 5,000 barrel-per-day number, today's figures are still considerably higher than the 12,000- to 19,000-barrel-per-day estimate that Adm. Thad Allen defended on Tuesday by saying, "I am the government and we are not low-balling."

While BP already is able to siphon nearly 16,000 barrels per day from the leaking pipe using its containment cap, that still leaves thousands of barrels gushing into the ocean, as can be seen on a live video feed from the ocean floor.

BP says that it will soon be able to expand its collection efforts. A second vessel should arrive within days to increase collection capacity, and BP will bring in a tanker to transport the gathered oil. The company also said that a semi-submersible drilling rig could begin capturing and burning another 10,500 barrels per day beginning early next week.

The new numbers on the leak rate raise new questions about whether BP will be able to pay for all of the cleanup and containment costs.

The company's stock price has been fluctuating wildly, and BP shareholders are worried that the company could drown in claims.

By some estimates, the company now owes $14 billion to the people of the Gulf, including men like Michael Rogers, who worked in the oyster business for nearly 40 years. Oyster beds have been shut down because of the spill.

"It's real sad, you know," said Rogers. "I just feel like going behind the building to just cry."