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May 14, 2010

Gulf Oil Leak Bigger Than Expected

Experts warned Friday that much more oil is spewing into the Gulf of Mexico from a sunken British Petroleum oil rig than officials had estimated.

National Public Radio (NPR) reported that Steven Wereley, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at Purdue University, said 14 times more oil was spewing into the sea than the officially estimated 5,000 barrels a day.  Expert opinion puts the estimate at three million gallons of oil a day spilling out into the Gulf.

Wereley analyzed the sea-floor oil geyser at NPR's request by using a technique called particle image velocimetry, which tracks particles and calculates how fast they move.

Timothy Crone of Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory analyzed the undersea oil gusher for NPR by using a different method and came up with a similar figure.

NPR said Eugene Chiang, a professor of astrophysics at the University of California, Berkley, also got a similar answer just using a pencil and paper.

Florida State University oceanographer Ian R. MacDonald told the New York Times that he analyzed the slick by using satellite imagery, and his calculations suggested that the leak could easily be spewing four to five times as much oil into the Gulf as previously estimated.

The findings suggest the oil spill is the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history, eclipsing the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill off Alaska's coast.

However, BP disputed the experts' analyses by saying there is no reliable method to calculate how much oil is flowing from the broken pipe on the sea floor.

Doug Suttles, BP's chief operating officer, said Friday on the CBS Early Show that he thought the official estimate of 5,000 barrels of oil pouring into the sea was "reasonable but higher uncertain."

A BP spokesman told AFP, the 5,000 barrels a day (210,000 gallons) figure was provided by NOAA, a U.S. federal agency.

According to The New York Times, BP has estimated that there are at least 50 million barrels of oil in the undersea reservoir that is gushing into the Gulf.

BP chief executive Tony Hayward played down the size of the spill saying it was "tiny" when compared to the expanse of water it was pouring into.

"The Gulf of Mexico is a very big ocean. The amount of volume of oil and dispersant we are putting into it is tiny in relation to the total water volume," BP chief executive Tony Hayward told British daily The Guardian.

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