What BP Knows About the Size of Gulf Disaster

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While BP publicly stuck to claims that its blow-out well was leaking at rate of 5,000 gallons of oil per day, the company was privately operating under the assumption that at least five times that amount was gushing into the Gulf, according to documents released today by congressional investigators.

BP’s internal estimate of 53,000 barrels per day is buried in one of the company’s requests to use more than the maximum threshold of dispersants established by the EPA, which the Coast Guard released earlier this month. In letters dated July 6 and 11 to the government’s on-scene coordinator in the Gulf, at that time Coast Guard Admiral James Watson, BP Chief Operating Office Doug Suttles cited the 53,000 figure in justifying the company’s request to use 25,200 gallons of dispersant per day to break up the oil.

The official per-day estimate of the spill’s size is still a large range. The government’s flow rate team has said that during the three months that oil was spewing into the Gulf anywhere from 35,000 to 60,000 barrels may have leaked daily. But BP, after first claiming oil was entering the Gulf at a rate of 1,000 barrels per day and then later adopting the initial, extremely low government estimate of 5,000 barrels, hasn’t offered another estimate of its own in weeks.

The government team is expected to come up with a more concrete estimate, though there’s some concern that we’ll never get a truly accurate figure, which is crucial to levying fines against BP and assessing damages in the Gulf.

“In the case of BP’s financial liability and the flow rate of this spill, ambiguity is BP’s ally, and precision is the government’s,” said Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), who chairs the Energy and Environment Subcommittee and the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, which released the BP document. “This document turns the tables on BP by exposing their own assumptions about the size of the spill.”

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SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

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