Will BP Own Up to the Real Flow Rate?

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The federal government determined that 53,000 barrels of oil were dumped into the Gulf of Mexico every day over the course of the BP disaster. So why is BP still “continuing to evaluate available inforomation” to come up with its own flow rate figure?

We know that BP has consistently low-balled the figure, trying for days to convince us that just 1,000 barrels of oil was coming from the well before they finally acknowledged a revised (and now known to be far too low) 5,000 barrel initial government estimate. It looks like the oil giant might still be trying to avoid acknowledging that the spill was far worse than BP led us to believe.

Rep. Ed Markey has been dogging this issue. In a letter to the company on August 11, he asked “whether BP will accept this more definitive” estimate from the flow rate technical group (FRTG) “as the basis for its per barrel spill liability and for other legal purposes.” Basically, he wants BP to say that it won’t challenge this figure in court, a figure that will be crucial to determining things like how much money BP owes for Clean Water Act violations and for the damages to natural resources.

“BP acceptance of a flow rate number is fundamental to its claim that it ‘is doing everything it can to make this right’ for the families and businesses of the Gulf,” said Markey. “Oil may have stopped flowing from the well, but the suffering in the region continues. Low-balling or litigating the flow rate estimate would be just one more insult to the people of the Gulf.”

Here’s the response to Markey’s request, provided by Douglas F. Curtis, an attorney at WilmerHale, on behalf of BP:

Without addressing the letter’s premise, BP agrees with you that it is important to determine the amount of oil that was discharged from the MC 252 well into the Gulf of Mexico. BP is continuing to evaluate available information, including estimates previously released by the FRTG. The company is also cooperating with the various government agencies looking into this important matter.

Of course, BP faces tens of billions of dollars in fines based on this figure. The company has every reason to remain coy about whether or not it will fight the government’s estimate.

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You just sent an incredible message: that quality journalism doesn't have to answer to advertisers, billionaires, or hedge funds; that newsrooms can eke out an existence thanks primarily to the generosity of its readers. That's so powerful. Especially during what's been called a "media extinction event" when those looking to make a profit from the news pull back, the Mother Jones community steps in.

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