Friday, August 20, 2010

BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Budget: Where Did The Oil Go?

The National Incident Command (NIC) assembled a number of interagency expert scientific teams to estimate the quantity of BP Deepwater Horizon oil that has been released from the well and the fate of that oil.

One team calculated the flow rate and total oil released. Led by Energy Secretary Steven Chu and United States Geological Survey (USGS) Director Marcia McNutt, this team announced on August 2, 2010, that it estimates that a total of 4.9 million barrels of oil has been released from the BP Deepwater Horizon well.

A second interagency team, led by the Department of the Interior (DOI) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) developed a tool called the Oil Budget Calculator to determine what happened to the oil. The calculator uses the 4.9 million barrel estimate as its input and uses both direct measurements and the best scientific estimates available to date, to determine what has happened to the oil. The interagency scientific report below builds upon the calculator and summarizes the disposition of the oil to date.

It is estimated that burning, skimming and direct recovery from the wellhead removed one quarter (25%) of the oil released from the wellhead. One quarter (25%) of the total oil naturally evaporated or dissolved, and just less than one quarter (24%) was dispersed (either naturally or as a result of operations) as microscopic droplets into Gulf waters. The residual amount — just over one quarter (26%) — is either on or just below the surface as light sheen and weathered tar balls, has washed ashore or been collected from the shore, or is buried in sand and sediments. Oil in the residual and dispersed categories is in the process of being degraded. Response efforts were successful in addressing 33% of the spilled oil. This includes oil that was captured directly from the wellhead by the riser pipe insertion tube and top hat systems (17%), burning (5%), skimming (3%) and chemical dispersion (8%). 16% of the oil dispersed naturally into the water column and 8% was dispersed by the application of chemical dispersants on and below the surface. Natural dispersion occurs as a result of the oil coming out of the riser pipe at high speed into the water column, which caused some of the oil to spray off in small droplets. For the purpose of this analysis, ‘dispersed oil’ is defined as droplets that are less than 100 microns — about the diameter of a human hair. (Deepwater Horizon Response, Oil Budget)

Alternatively, researchers at the Georgia Sea Grant program and the University of Georgia said earlier this weekthat up to 79% of the spilled oil may still be in the Gulf.

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