Scientists provided a new estimate for the amount of oil gushing from the ruptured well in the Gulf of Mexico on Tuesday that indicates it could be leaking up to 2.52 million gallons of crude a day.
A government panel of scientists said that the ruptured well is leaking between 1.47 million and 2.52 million gallons of oil daily. The figures move the government's worst-case estimates more in line with what an independent team had previously thought was the maximum size of the spill.
"This estimate brings together several scientific methodologies and the latest information from the sea floor, and represents a significant step forward in our effort to put a number on the oil that is escaping from BP's well," Energy Secretary Steven Chu said in a statement.
The latest numbers reflect an increase in the flow that scientists believe happened after undersea robots earlier this month cut off a kinked pipe near the sea floor that was believed to be restricting the flow of oil, just as a bend in a garden hose reduces water flow. BP officials has estimated that cutting the kinked pipe likely increased the flow by up 20 percent.
The pipe was removed so BP could install a containment cap that is trapping leaking oil and drawing it a ship waiting on the ocean surface.
The new numbers are based on a combination of scientific data, including an analysis of high-resolution video taken by underwater robots, pressure meters, sonar, and measurements of oil collected by the containment device on top of the well.
It is the fourth — and perhaps not last — time the federal government has had to increase its estimate of how much oil is gushing. At one point, the federal government claimed only 42,000 gallons were spilling a day and then it upped the number to 210,000 gallons.
As of Tuesday, the maximum amount of oil that has gushed out of the well since the April 20 explosion is 116 million gallons, according to the estimates by scientists advising the federal government.
BP PLC now has a containment system in place in the Gulf of Mexico that has been capturing nearly 648,000 gallons of oil daily. That system was forced to shut down as a precaution Tuesday morning because of a fire on a ship connected to it. BP said the collection system was not damaged and about five hours after the fire, the containment operations resumed.
Under pressure from the federal government, BP plans to gradually expand its ability to capture the flow of oil until a relief well can permanently end the leak sometime in August. The collection system could expand to a peak capacity of 2.2 million gallons of oil by the end of June and up to roughly 3.4 million gallons of oil by mid July.
Tuesday night, in an Oval Office address to the nation, President Barack Obama said that the government had told BP to speed the pace of capturing the oil.
"In the coming days and weeks, these efforts should capture up to 90 percent of the oil leaking out of the well," he said in prepared remarks.