Posted by: bmeverett | June 22, 2010

Shame on Ed Markey (again)

On the Sunday, June 20 edition of Meet the Press, Congressman Ed Markey (D-MA) said about the Gulf Oil Spill, “I actually have a document that shows that BP actually believes it could go upwards of 100,000 barrels per day, which would be about four million gallons a day. So again, right from the beginning, BP was either lying or grossly incompetent. First they said it was only 1,000 barrels, then they said it was 5,000 barrels, now we’re up to 100,000 barrels.” Wow. That’s a startling claim. Whenever anyone in Washington says anything, however, smart people go right to the source and check for themselves. The two-page document Mr. Markey refers to can be found at , and I encourage you to have a look.

What you see on the first page of the document is a schematic of the well. The top of the well is about a mile below the surface of the water. The flow of oil is supposed to be controlled by the wellhead, which includes a device called a blow-out preventer (BOP). When activated, the BOP stops the flow of oil entirely. In this case, the BOP failed, and we don’t yet know why.

In the text, BP calculates that a maximum of 60,000 barrels per day (BPD) could theoretically flow through the damaged system, but believes that an estimate of 5,000-40,000 BPD is more likely. The 100,000 BPD figure appears on the second page in a note that states that such a high flow rate could result if (1) the wellhead and BOP are removed and (2) BP’s model of the flow rate is wrong. This number is presented as a “low probability worst case.”

Unless something very unexpected happens, the wellhead and BOP will stay where they are. There are no plans to remove this equipment, and no one has even suggested such a step. Why then does Mr. Markey present this number as though it’s the latest estimate of the actual flow? A Google search will show hundreds of articles repeating and amplifying Mr. Markey’s mistake. Reuters headlines its story with “BP estimates oil spill up to 100,000 barrels per day.” Some articles even use the term “prediction.” This is nuts.

Nobody, including BP and the US government, really knows how much oil is gushing from this well. In May, Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen, the National Incident Commander, established the Flow Rate Task Group (FRTG) chaired by the US Geological Survey to estimate the amount of crude coming out of the well. The FRTG is comprised of prominent academics from marine and engineering disciplines. BP is not a member. The FRTG got right to work, using three separate methods. The first method (The Mass Modeling Team) estimated the area covered by the oil slick. With some assumptions regarding the thickness of the oil and some adjustments for oil burned or hidden from view, the team made their best guess. The second method (The Plume Modeling Team) evaluated the videos of oil streaming from the wellhead and applied sophisticated imaging and modeling techniques to guess the flow rate. The third approach (The Riser Insertion Tube Estimate) used records from an instrument located in the wellhead. On May 27, the FRTG stated publicly that “The only range of flow rates that is consistent with all 3 of the methods considered by the FRTG is 12,000 to 19,000 barrels per day.” You can see the announcement at

Last week, after further work, the FRTG’s estimate was increased to 35,000 to 60,000 BPD. According to Mr. Markey’s logic, the government’s own Flow Rate Task Group must have been either lying or grossly incompetent when it issued the earlier, lower estimate. In fact, the FRTG’s latest estimate is within the maximum theoretical rate specified in the BP document that Mr. Markey is waving around.

Look, nobody is defending BP here. BP is responsible for the largest oil spill in US history, and they will pay a very steep price. They are not, however, responsible for the Kennedy assassination, the disappearance of Jimmie Hoffa, the AIDs epidemic or the death of Michael Jackson, although I doubt anyone would come to BP’s defense if these accusations were made.

Mr. Markey is continuing a troubling trend in our politics. In order to demonize opponents, our current practice is to call any incorrect assessment a lie. President Bush (along with President and Mrs. Clinton, the Congress, our intelligence agencies and all our allies) believed that we would find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq when we invaded in 2003. We didn’t. The conclusion of the Democrats? “BUSH LIED!” Those two words represent the retreat of the Democratic Party from substance and its descent into pure rhetoric.

The people of the Gulf Coast are now facing a dilemma: they would like to portray the spill in the most spectacular, dramatic terms possible in order to get as much compensation from BP as they can, while at the same time downplaying the impact of the spill to encourage tourists to continue to come to the beaches. The result for most of us is confusion about what’s really happening.
Mr. Markey is the longest serving member of the New England congressional delegation. He should be helping us to understand what’s going on in the Gulf and what we should do about it. Instead he’s just muddying the waters with utterly illogical nonsense. We should expect better from him.



  1. June 22, 2010 (LPAC)– Serious consideration for the design and tailoring of a peaceful nuclear explosive to seal the BP well must now be a highest level priority. On the basis of information available in the public domain, such preparation is mandatory. Testimony from the leading U.S. expert on peaceful nuclear explosions as to the efficacy of using a nuclear device to seal the BP well has now been made public. Evaluations of the probable compromised condition of the well bore and seafloor come from reliable professional sources, which can be checked. BP’s presentation of the situation must neither be believed nor tolerated.
    The political problem is that we have a President who is not in the real world. The very existence of the United States is endangered by the President’s determination not to offend the British Empire, Wall Street, or both. But we can’t let that stop us from saving the United States from a horrible fate. We can’t wait two elections to save the United States from an incompetent President.
    The prospect of massive flow of oil into the Atlantic within as early as 18 days, according to a projection by the National Center for Atmospheric Research, will make this a global disaster. There might be debatable features of such estimates, but lying by BP and its apologists is so severe we cannot base policy on such vast and portentous cover-ups. At the point this massive oil leak enters the Atlantic, it is a point of no return for North and possibly South America, and will rapidly move on to become a European and a global crisis.
    This has become a major national security question, the only one more dangerous being the President himself.
    For more details see

    Chuck Stevens

    • I have approved Mr. Stevens’ post in the interest of keeping the debate open. I strongly disagree with the idea of using nuclear explosives to seal this well. The relief wells are getting close, and I see no reason to attempt a highly risky operation in which we have zero experience. We have absolutely no idea what might happen if we did so. When you’re in the ditch, stop digging!

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