BP’s Own Internal Documents Prove It Knew Its Oil Leak Estimates Were Bogus

In today’s Natural Resources Hearing on the BP Disaster, Ed Markey brought out proof that BP knew it was lying about the flow of oil from its disaster. He brought two BP documents showing that even when their Chief Operating Officer Doug Suttles was giving low-ball estimates of 1,000 BBL/day, BP’s own internal documents showed that their best guess was 5,758 BBL/day.

The fact is BP has not been entirely candid and open with the American people about this disaster. Mr. Secretary, initially, BP estimated that 1,000 barrels of oil per day were leaking into the Gulf. On April 28, 2010, a new leak was discovered and Coast Guard officials pushed BP to increase the estimate to at least 5,000 barrels per day. However, BP’s Chief Operating Officer Doug Suttles was initially quoted that day–April 28–saying that he believed that the flow rate of 1,000 barrels per day was accurate and that “Due to its location, we do not believe that this new leak changes the amount currently believed to be released.”

Yesterday, BP provided me with an internal document dated April 27, 2010, and cited as BP Confidential that shows a low estimate, a best guess, and a high estimate of the amount of oil that was leaking. According to this BP document, the company’s low estimate of the leak on April 27 was 1,063 barrels per day. It’s best guess was 5,758 barrels per day. It’s high estimate was 14,266 barrels per day. BP has also turned over another document dated April 26 which includes a 5,000 barrel per day figure as well. So when BP was citing the 1,000 barrel per day figure to the American people on April 28, their own internal documents from the day before show that their best guess was a leak of 5,768 [sic] barrels per day and their high estimate was more than 14,000 barrels that were spilling into the Gulf every day. [my emphasis]

As Markey goes on to point out, BP’s intentional low-balling might have been designed to help them argue for a $5-15 million penalty per day as opposed to a $14-42 million penalty.

Secretary Salazar promised several times during the hearing that the government would release its own estimate of the flow sometime today.

46 replies
  1. BoxTurtle says:

    Can’t wait to see how close ObamaLLP’s estimate is to the estimates of the scientists.

    Beware of this trick: They’ll state an average flow of something per day. But that’s averaged over the entire event. If I could have my wish, I’d like a graph showing flow per day and the accumulating amount for each day.

    I’m betting we get either a very soft number, an out of date number, or a number much closer to BP’s than independent estimates. Perhaps all three at once.

    Boxturtle (DOJ might want to serve paperwork, BP likely has the same email system that lost Rove’s stuff)

    • emptywheel says:

      Obama’s number can’t do that. As I’ll post on later (hopefully) BP didn’t give NOAA adequate film from the leak to develop their own estimate until just a few days ago. So any average they give will be for the last few days.

      • readerOfTeaLeaves says:

        BP didn’t give NOAA adequate film from the leak to develop their own estimate until just a few days ago. So any average they give will be for the last few days.

        That should be a felony. And someone(s) should go to prison for covering up a crime.

        • bmaz says:

          I don’t know if that is true. Maybe, maybe not. I think I recall something long ago that said the White House and Interior had access to all of BP’s feeds from very early on, but could only “convince” BP to make one public well into the ordeal.

        • emptywheel says:

          As I said above, that is based on what NOAA said today. Perhaps Interior had it and refused to share with NOAA, but I doubt that, unless Interior was complicit on hiding volume.

        • bmaz says:

          I don’t doubt that necessarily, but would swear I saw somewhere the WH had access to the multi feed. No clue where, or if i really did though; so that is not worth much.

    • DeadLast says:

      I think we will learn that the actual estimated leakage amounts will not be released due to national security concerns. I am sure Bush signed some secret executive order to that effect that Obama will feel somehow obligated to honor. After all these deep-sea drill rigs are sitting ducks . . . . (We would hate it if anyone learned they were vulnerable.)

  2. IntelVet says:

    Why does anyone even think that corporations would not act in their own best interests, covering up their screw-ups and touting their successes?

    What is wrong with America that the tea baggers are not banging on the WH steps over this very issue?

  3. MadDog says:

    I’m only surprised that BP didn’t first try to say “There’s zero oil leaking. That sheen you see on the water is merely suntan lotion from beachgoers.”

  4. thatvisionthing says:

    off topic but of general interest to the regulars here? Local San Diego story posted yesterday about Senate committee sending Eric Holder and Robert Gates a sternly sharply worded letter re ignoring subpoenas for San Diego FBI agents:

    Battle Involving Local FBI’s Terrorism Group Gets Heated

    In a sharply worded letter to Attorney General Eric Holder and Defense Secretary Robert Gates yesterday, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee slammed the departments for stonewalling and threatened to find the top officials in contempt of Congress if they don’t comply with subpoenas by June 2.

    The committee is trying to evaluate, among other things, the FBI’s actions when it intercepted e-mails indicating that Army Maj. Nidal Hasan, accused of murdering 13 military colleagues in a shooting rampage at the Texas military base, was communicating with former San Diego Muslim leader Anwar al-Awlaki, now a target for CIA assassination.

    (me: Eric Holder, obstructing justice?)

    fyi; I missed it if this was covered elsewhere

    (sharply worded letter signed by Lieberman and Collins — kabuki?)

    • DWBartoo says:

      I hope that “obstructing justice” link gets some serious attention, here, tvt.

      Your links always have my attention.

      As you have, all ways, my respect and appreciation.


    • MadDog says:

      I would note that the 4/26 document was apparently sent or received by a “BP HOLC”.

      A Google search of BP HOLC provides this:


      To show its deep commitment to providing quality training and development opportunities, BP has constructed a flagship learning and development facility in Houma, Louisiana for the GoM operations community.

      The Houma Operations Learning Center (HOLC) is now open. This state-of-the-art facility provides unprecedented learning opportunities for our offshore production operations community.

      The purpose of this significant investment in people is to build competencies around core operating skills. BP will deliver HSSE training, basic and specialized technical training and leadership training from this controlled environment…


      …Fit-for-purpose training delivery methods will include:
      o High quality classroom training designed to develop and enhance HSSE, technical and leadership skills
      o Hands-on workshop training for automation, electrical, instrumentation, rigging and lifting
      o An Incident Management Suite for simulated emergency response and incident management training
      o A Production Control Simulator for hands-on training in the area of control room operations

      Computer labs for CBTs and virtual training…

      (My Bold)

      The BP HOLC is apparently a “training” facility, but based on the contents of the 4/26 document, the BP HOLC may also be operating as BP’s technical resource on the oil spill incident and/or command center.

  5. readerOfTeaLeaves says:

    With respect to the amount of oil streaming into the Gulf, there was a remarkable conversation today involving Matthew Simmons (IIRC, he was an oil advisor to GHWB).

    They talk about the notion that the video streaming some of us have been watching is probably not the real ‘leak’ — if the riser blew off the wellhead, then there’s a whole other set of problems. Amazing.

    [I left this link over at the Rick Steiner post at FDL, but this seems really, really important for the conversation about the oil plume and how many millions of gallons are in the water.)

  6. rosalind says:

    via eschaton:

    On the Newshour last night, BP shill, er, Managing Director, Robert Dudley, explained they low balled the flow rate cause they didn’t want to alarm people. He cited all those tourist cancellations in Alabama as a rationalization.

    • klynn says:

      I told Rayne, on her diary, to go watch the interview. I have been updating my family daily with information from FDL-EW.

      Even my kids sat and listened calling out the BS being displayed by BP.

      • Leen says:

        Been doing some serious advertising for FDL on Washington Journal. Had a few 20 somethings call in and encourage folks to come to FDL’s oil disaster coverage as well as reports on all issues.

        When you subject yourself to five straight hours of MSNBC news and the oil disaster has rolled over every other piece of critical news. Just another reminder about why so many of us come to the blogs to get a wider perspective on the news and how to do what we can to change things

  7. ThingsComeUndone says:

    It’s high estimate was 14,266 barrels per day. BP

    Lyin Scrot Munchin they should be sentenced to eating New Orleans fish for the next 20 years!

  8. ThingsComeUndone says:

    BP knows that stunts like this hurts their friends in the GOP and the Dem party running for reelection right?
    They know that no matter what get tough on oil bill Dipper Dave brags about unless it gets passed he is toast.

  9. Margaret says:

    I just looked at the live feed and the product coming out now is the color of drilling mud, rather than oil. Of course that’s not going to matter if they can’t get the flow stopped altogether. The oil will just push the mud up and out until it’s just oil coming out again. Still a tiny glimmer of hope.

  10. spocko says:

    I sometimes wish that more people had worked internally within corporations and THEN went into journalism. That way they could see the tricks coming. I’ve tried to help journalists understand some of this but they often don’t get just how easy they are manipulated. One area they are fooled is with stats and math.

    What we are seeing here is something that the mathematician John Allen Paulos calls an “anchor number”. He writes about it in his book “A mathematician reads the Newspaper” (I’ve talked to John, he is a VERY funny guy and a great speaker)
    Corporation use an anchor number to throw off the discussion right off the bat.
    The conversations will all focus on this first anchor number for a long time, so it behooves them to choose the one that works best for them. The conversation will revolve around this number even long after a new number is used.

    We saw this during the pet food crisis of 2007. The FDA listed only 12 pets who died from eating tainted food. It behooved Menu (the pet food company) to use that number as the “official number” since the FDA used it. Now the FDA wasn’t equipped to keep track of deaths and cause of deaths, like the human CDC, so the number of dead animals kept being reported in the dozens range instead of the THOUSANDS which is what we found based on the database kept by Pet Connection.

    Sadly the media didn’t use that number because it wasn’t “official”. This worked to Menu’s advantage because it didn’t let the media know the true scope of the death. If you knew that a food killed four thousand kitties and puppies and made 5 thousand sick you would treat it different than if you knew that it killed 12 and made 20 sick. Right? To this day I’ll bet most people here think that maybe a few hundred cats and dogs died instead of at least 4 thousand with the actual number never to be know because there is no animal CDC.

    So corporations exploit the media’s need for “official numbers” and they also exploit their ignorance of stats. So as I predicted in the early days of this crisis BP would constantly use the lowest number if they could. They would use bbls instead of gallons and they would resist independent confirmations. The media are conditioned to go with “official” numbers and if only BP is offering them they would have to report them.

    I hate to have predicted right, but I know how companies do this stuff.

    • MadDog says:

      …So corporations exploit the media’s need for “official numbers” and they also exploit their ignorance of stats…

      As good an explanation of why the MSM still shills that “less than 30” civilians have been killed by all of our drone strikes.

      In “public relations” as in “war”, he who gets his “facts” in first, wins.

      • spocko says:

        Exactly. The other thing is that there is no group who is constantly contacting the media to point out, ‘You are still using the old numbers. Stop it. They lied. They admit they lied. There are new numbers. Use them.”

    • Nell says:

      Thanks so much for this very cogent comment, spocko. A hugely important point, one that applies far beyond this specific disaster.

      Having your anchor number or “anchor argument” ready, and getting it out to your mouthpieces before the truth gets its boots on, poisons the discussion for all eternity. The example that jumps to mind is the Big Lie that the right had all ready for the coup in Honduras last June (“It wasn’t a coup, we were saving democracy: he was trying to change the constitution to extend his term in office.”)

  11. Oval12345678akaJamesKSayre says:

    Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who’s oil gusher/leak/spill is the most bogus of all?

    BP, LLC + Obama, LLC. Two Limited Liability Corporations for the price of one. This year only!

  12. tjbs says:

    Would you think before you drilled a mile away from you, you would have like pressure gauges and flow meters with transponders. I wonder how they calculate those royalties with a stone on a string and a “y” shaped stick.

  13. thefutureisnow says:

    Markley: Mr. Secretary, do you believe BP was being straight with the American people when they were citing their low end 1,000 barrels a day estimate, and failing to give the full range of the estimates that they had already developed for this spill?

    Salazar: Uh, Congressman Markley, let me say uh, our push uh, on BP has been uh for them to be transparent, and so what you’re seeing today in terms of the uh top kill operation is uh in part in response to our directive – the relationship uh between the United States and BP under our laws, as I have said: We direct them uh relative to uh important things like uh transparency in making sure the information is being made available…The quantity is a very important issue for a whole host of uh reasons, Congressman Markley, and you’re right to be focused on those numbers, uh, because we wanna have the United States have independent verification, we have uh scientists from USGS and…and…and…

    So, did he even answer the question?

    • emptywheel says:

      No. And it wasn’t the only time that an Admin official in today’s hearing refused to say BP was full of shit.

      MMS head Birnbaum was much more honest, repeatedly saying she couldn’t comment on anything under investigation.

  14. lexalexander says:

    OK, someone, somewhere at BP KNEW that the figures they were giving the government were wrong. And lying to a federal official is a criminal misdemeanor. I realize that most U.S. attorneys have more important things to do with their time than prosecuting criminal misdemeanors, but I think prosecuting these crimes is important for two reasons: 1) It sends the signal that business as usual is over; and 2) who knows what else we might learn from people eager to keep even a misdemeanor off their criminal records?

    Marcy, you’ve walked that side of the street, so to speak. What say ye?

  15. iremember54 says:

    Gee! I figured out weeks ago That BP was low balling the oil being spilled by direction of their Attorneys.

    The great minds in our Government, the Media, and our intelligent populus are just now realizing that fact.

    Those oil companies don’t make a move that their attorneies don’t tell them they can.

    Also the more spilled the less chance they will have to pay for it all. They already have the Republicans fight to have the cap not to be raised.

    The problem is the oil companies are smarter than the Government, and most of the people in the Country. After all they been milking us like prized cows for years, and we been mooing at them like they were the farmer that owns us.

  16. bobschacht says:

    BTW, here is a schematic diagram of the wellhead, BOP and manifold that BP is working on.

    Here’s a BP schematic about the setup.

    Another diagram

    One of the problems with getting good diagrams is this:

    Piping and Instrument Diagrams (P&IDs) for the Atlantis subsea components “are not complete” and “there are hundreds if not thousands of subsea documents that have never been finalized, yet the facilities have been” up and running. P&IDs documents form the foundation of a hazards analysis BP is required to undertake as part of its Safety and Environmental Management Program related to its offshore drilling operations. P&IDs drawings provide the schematic details of the project’s piping and process flows, valves and safety critical instrumentation.


    So I’m guessing that most of these diagrams we see are somewhat idealized, and may be designed as much to conceal as to reveal.

    Bob in AZ

    • Peterr says:

      Contractors of every stripe will also point out the distinction between the project “as designed” and “as built.” From some of the reporting, there’s been a lot of problems with keeping the designs up to date as things got built. Thus, there are discrepancies — some minor, others perhaps not so minor — between what’s on paper/on disk and what’s sitting on the floor of the gulf under a mile of water and oil.

  17. bobschacht says:

    I think the issue of the diagrams is an important one. Let’s start with one provided by the U.S. Coast Guard, NOAA, BP, and Transocean, with credits to the Times-Picayune. This is as close as I’ve found to an attempt to illustrate what is really down there.

    Most of the diagrams you’ve seen are from BP, like this one. It shows an idealization of what it is supposed to look like. But you will note that in this nice pretty diagram, there are no ruptures, or breaks, or leaking gas or oil.

    I think we need a better diagram, produced by independent scientists at NOAA, the Coast Guard, and Woods Hole, not a sanitized, pretty picture of what it should look like, in order to understand what is happening. The Times-Picayune diagram comes closest, of the ones I’ve seen, but it is not detailed enough.

    Bob in AZ

    • DWBartoo says:

      Bob, the diagram “issue” is very important. It is about appearance, the “appearance” of a corporation that wants people to believe that it knows what it is doing, rather than providing sufficient details and information so that others may decide how much of substance is actually being “shared”.

      This concern with appearance rather than substance is continuing evidence, of a very damning sort, that Bee Pee does not intend to be forthcoming or essentially honest. Neither are they being REQUIRED to be forthcoming or honest, which is also evidence, of a most damning sort.

      Clearly, with all the intentional effort spent hiding the truth, both Bee Pee and the American Government intend things to go on as they were before the “spill”.

      That what has occurred is not a “spill” but a genuine catastrophe, a substantial threat to life and the environment which sustains that life … is lost, utterly and totally, on Bee Pee and “our” government, both of whom want it to just go away so they can get back to money and power games, and the unquestioning adulation and respect which accompanies the ruthless acquisition of those “things”.

      Not only do the “leaders” wish us to not look “backward”, they wish us to ignore today and, possibly, tomorrow … or their “plans” will all be thwarted by the complete inconvenience of reality.

      (Look at the pretty pictures, why do you all persist in seeing unpleasant things? Is America not at the height of her power and influence? Is America not the ruler of the world? What more do you want?)


  18. emptywheel says:

    Incidentally, Doug Suttles, the guy who was lying on TV about the flow rate? He’s the guy who sent EPA a bogus response on Corexit.

  19. Leen says:

    BPBBOP (British Petroleum Before Blowing Out Preventer)

    ABP (After British Petroleum)

    Could they go down?

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