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The Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming addressed our nation's energy, economic and national security challenges during the 110th and 111th Congresses.

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BP Documents Show Company Assumed 53,000 Barrels Per Day Spill

Could Better Determine BP’s Liability from Disaster

(July 27, 2010) – Buried in documents sent by BP to the Coast Guard is a pivotal number that sheds light on central questions relating to BP’s oil spill – BP’s assumption of the true flow rate of the oil from the Macondo well. In the documents, released today by Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), BP makes a request to apply more dispersants, and says they “assume flow rate of 53,000” barrels of oil spilled per day. This is BP’s first admission of its kind that the spill could be so large, and falls on the upper end of the current range given by government scientists.

“These are pivotal documents, where the company admits in writing the true magnitude of this spill could be at least 53,000 barrels a day,” said Rep. Markey, who received the documents as part of his investigation into the disaster. “This is a far cry from the 1,000 barrels a day BP first claimed was the total rate of the spill, and is important evidence in the government’s case to hold BP financially accountable for their disaster.”

The documents can be found HERE and are also now publicly available at following their release to Rep. Markey. The dispersant requests were sent to the Coast Guard by Doug Suttles, BP’s Chief Operating Officer. Suttles has previously discussed the potential to collect 53,000 barrels a day during the previous containment cap operation, but this document shows the same number was used to calculate the proper ratio of dispersants the company would use.

The documents are dated July 6 and 11, 2010, when the previous, ill-fitting temporary cap was on the well. BP notes in one document that they would “calculate oil escaping by subtracting oil captured by containment system from 53,000 [barrels a day],” a further admission that they used the figure to calculate oil escaping from the well.

The flow rate of the well would have substantial financial implications for the company, which is reporting its quarterly earnings today. Under current law, BP would have to pay a fine of at least $1,100 and up to $4,300 per barrel of oil spilled, with the higher figure in the case of gross negligence being found against the company. So for every 10,000 barrels of oil spilled per day at $4,300 per barrel over the more than 80 days of oil spilled into the ocean, the fine would be more than $3.5 billion.

The total size of the spill will also determine damages BP would have to pay for the spill’s effect on natural resources in the Gulf of Mexico.

The current estimate from the Flow Rate Technical Group, the government and independent scientists who have worked with video, pressure and other data to estimate the flow of oil from BP’s well, falls between 35,000 and 60,000 barrels of oil spilled per day. More precise numbers are expected soon resulting from additional data collected by Department of Energy scientists as the well was being shut in with the new cap.

“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. Markey, who chairs the Energy and Environment Subcommittee and the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming. “This document turns the tables on BP by exposing their own assumptions about the size of the spill.”

During the BP oil spill, Rep. Markey has pushed BP to provide better access to video and the spill site for independent scientists looking to measure the spill. Rep. Markey successfully pushed to make the Spillcam public, release high definition video, and held the first hearing on measuring the flow rate of the spill on May 19, 2010.

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PLEASE NOTE: The House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming was created to explore American clean energy solutions that end our reliance on foreign oil and reduce carbon pollution.

The Select Committee was active during the 110th and 111th Congresses. This is an archived version of the website, to ensure that the public has ongoing access to the Select Committee record. This website, including external links, will not be updated after Jan. 3rd, 2010.

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