Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Gulf Oil Spill Biggest Ever, Could Cost BP $21 Billion in Fines

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Gulf Oil Spill Biggest Ever, Could Cost BP $21 Billion in Fines

Article excerpt

A new estimate suggests that the Gulf oil spill blowout gushed 4.9 million barrels of oil before BP capped it, making it the largest accidental oil spill in history.

The Gulf oil spill blowout was so large and intense that by the time BP capped the well in mid-July, pressure within the estimated 50 million barrel reservoir beneath it had declined noticeably.

The government panel tasked with measuring the flow rate from the well released new data Monday night. The panel suggests that the well released 62,000 barrels (2.6 million gallons) of oil a day initially, but that it eventually slowed to 52,000 barrels a day by June.

Over the course of the blowout - from April 20 to July 15 - the Macondo well gushed 4.9 million barrels of oil, making it the largest accidental oil spill in world history, according to the panel. Specifically, the Gulf oil spill now officially outpaces the 3.3 million barrels released in the 1979 Ixtoc spill, which occurred in a different part of the Gulf of Mexico.

IN PICTURES: The Gulf oil spill's impact on nature

The release of oil in the aftermath of the 1991 Iraq war may have resulted in more than 4 million barrels being released into the Persian Gulf, but, officially, that is classified as a war event, not an accident.

Most directly, the estimate will affect how much BP will have to pay in fines as a result of the spill. If courts deem BP grossly negligent in the spill - which would bring a steeper penalty - total fines could run to $21.1 billion. If BP is not deemed grossly negligent, that figure would shrink to $5.4 billion.

But the new estimate also raises more questions about early downplaying of the flow rate by BP and its effect on the government's response to the spill.

"The Obama administration had absolutely no answers on how to deal with this, and so they [said], 'Let's just keep BP in charge,'" says Tyson Slocum, a policy expert at the non-partisan Public Citizen, a government watchdog group. …

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