BP Still Playing Dumb About Size of Gulf Disaster

In an interview with the New Orleans Times-Picayune published today (via ProPublica), BP chief operating officer Doug Suttles maintains that how much oil his company is responsible for letting loose in the Gulf is irrelevant. The flow rate, he said, “has never impacted the response.”

It sure does impact the destruction in the Gulf, and the amount of money the company may have to pay in civil and potentially criminal penalties. As we’ve reported here before, the company could owe $4,300 a barrel for Clean Water Act violations alone. BP’s earliest estimates said at first that no oil was leaking, then 300 barrels a day, and then 1,000 barrels. The latest government estimates, however, put the flow rate as high as 60,000 barrels per day.

BP would have us believe that at this point, 65,000 barrels have leaked into the Gulf, a fine of $279.5 million. If the high-end government estimate is right, the disaster is already at more than 3.9 million barrels (or 164 million gallons)—$16.7 billion in fines. Yes, billion, with a “b.”

Suttles says that estimating the size is “extraordinarily imprecise and we took a view very early on that we didn’t think you could do it and we didn’t think it was relevant either.” (This despite the fact that company bragged two years ago about how awesome their technology to measure flow rates is.)

Despite Suttles insistence that their low-balling “has never impacted the response,” as the Times-Picayune notes, the federal on-scene coordinator, Coast Guard Rear Adm. James Watson, sent a letter to the company on June 11 complaining that their response was inadequate because they were underestimating the size. “I am concerned that your current plans do not provide for maximum mobilization of resources to provide the needed collection capacity consistent with the revised flow estimates,” Watson wrote to Suttles.

So yes, in this case, size does matter Mr. Suttles. For many reasons.


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  • Kate Sheppard was a staff reporter in Mother Jones' Washington bureau from 2009 to 2013. She is now a senior reporter and the energy and environment editor at The Huffington Post. She can be reached by email at kate (dot) sheppard (at) huffingtonpost (dot) com and you can follow her on Twitter @kate_sheppard.