Congress Told Oil Gusher Jetting Up To 104,000 Barrels Per Day

A professor of mechanical engineering at Purdue University testified to a House subcommittee yesterday, saying that the Gulf of Mexico oil gusher is actually much worse than BP’s estimate of 5,000 barrels per day.

Citing a 20 percent margin of error, he claimed the well is jetting between 76,000 and 104,000 barrels per day, but noted that a more accurate reading would come from observing the well over time.

If the gusher cannot be stopped and is allowed to drain itself over the course of years, it will likely result in hundreds of millions of barrels of oil pouring into the ecologically sensitive Gulf and circulating elsewhere through the Gulf stream.

McClatchy reports:

The figure of 5,000 barrels, or 210,000 gallons, a day that BP and the federal government have been using for weeks is based on observations of the surface slick made by satellites and aircraft. Even NASA’s satellite-based instruments, however, can’t see deep into the waters of the gulf, where much of the oil from the gusher seems to be floating. The well is 5,000 feet below the surface.


Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., who led the hearing, said he’d work to get that information from BP.

“The true extent of this spill remains a mystery,” Markey said. He said BP had said that the flow rate was not relevant to the cleanup effort. “This faulty logic that BP is using is . . . raising concerns that they are hiding the full extent of the damage of this leak.”

Markey said he wrote to BP last week asking how it made its estimate and whether it had refused offers by scientists to provide better estimates. He said BP merely sent back an acknowledgement of the receipt of his letter, but didn’t answer.

The same man who testified to Congress, Steve Wereley, an associate professor at Purdue, told National Public Radio days earlier that his estimate of the oil’s volume based on video from the sea floor was at least 70,000 barrels a day — or another Exxon Valdez spill every 96 hours.

The Exxon-Valdez spill is known as the 53rd largest in history and shares the infamy of being regarded as one of America’s greatest environmental disasters, after an oil tanker hit the Bligh Island Reef off the Alaska coast and ruptured, dropping at least 250,000 barrels and causing billions in damage to sensitive environments. The effect was dramatic and jarring, with oil pouring onto beaches, coating wildlife, destroying natural habitats and contaminating soil and water.

Exxon was initially ruled liable for $5 billion in damages, but the company successfully litigated that down over nearly two decades to just $507 million, offering in 2008 to pay just 75 percent. In 2009 a judge cited them an additional $480 million, solely for interest on the debt.

Exxon-Mobil, largely the reformation of the Rockefeller-owned Standard Oil once smashed to pieces by Congress, is the top oil company in America and regularly issues quarterly reports showing tens of billions in profits. The company bought out leading U.S. natural gas firm XTO Energy in December for $31 billion.

The scope of the Deepwater Horizon spill has not fully set in and isn’t even truly yet known, however estimates of up to 104,000 barrels per day do appear more reliable than BP’s estimate of 5,000. The company in recent days has objected to outside scientific analysis, claiming there’s no way to estimate how much oil is rushing into the Gulf. In spite of this, BP claimed to be funneling one-fifth of the gusher into safe reserves via the non-solution of hooking a tube to the thing: an estimate that the company must also logically disagree with, due to their own claim that it’s impossible to tell.

All of the above will certainly lend credibility to theories on why BP made up excuses for delayed release of footage from the sea floor, then lied about their reasons.

NPR added:

Timothy Crone, an associate research scientist at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, used another well-accepted method to calculate fluid flows. Crone arrived at a similar figure, but he said he’d like better video from BP before drawing a firm conclusion.

Eugene Chiang, a professor of astrophysics at the University of California, Berkeley, also got a similar answer, using just pencil and paper.

Without even having a sense of scale from the BP video, he correctly deduced that the diameter of the pipe was about 20 inches. And though his calculation is less precise than Wereley’s, it is in the same ballpark.

“I would peg it at around 20,000 to 100,000 barrels per day,” he said.

Chiang called the current estimate of 5,000 barrels a day “almost certainly incorrect.”

Given this flow rate, it seems this is a spill of unprecedented proportions in U.S. waters.

“It would just take a few days, at most a week, for it to exceed the Exxon Valdez’s record,” Chiang said.

Standing law limits BP’s liability for the disaster to just $75 million and efforts in Congress to raise that to $10 billion cap have stalled thanks to GOP parliamentary tactics.

BP made $5.6 billion in just the first quarter of 2010, up over 130 percent from the same time last year.

The gusher has been flowing unabated since April 22 sinking of the Deepwater Horizon. Assuming the estimates are correct, a best case scenario means that over 2,128,000 barrels have spilled as of this writing on May 20. Worst case: over 2,912,000 barrels.

In less than a month.

Brace yourselves, Gulf coast residents. The horizon just turned oil black.


Fox News Host Claims ‘Natural Seepage’ Actually Worse Than Oil Gusher

I grew up on the Gulf of Mexico.

My father was C.J. Webster, city manager of Port Lavaca for most of my adolescent life. This enabled our family to live a relatively privledged middle class existence in a two-story home with a backyard that sloped down to the shore. I thought I hated everything at the time, but looking back it seems better than idyllic.

The only thing I remember ever seeing through the haze across the waters was Alcoa, a massive aluminum manufacturing plant.

The Gulf almost killed me once. I got curious about a crab trap bobber near the edge of My canal, only to lean too far out over the water. I plunged in wearing heavy clothes and snagged my jeans on the craggy cement wall. Struggling to come up for air, I began thrashing at my groin trying to unhook the pants, only to be pulled from the waters seconds later by a friend who’d seen my fall.

I forgave the Gulf. The experience did not keep me out of its waters for long. Still, it left a mark on me.

As a boy I was stung by a half-dozen or so jellyfish, each one a memorable lesson in the worst pain I’d yet felt. I even jumped onto a bed of clams with my bare feet. It’s not the cuts that hurt so much, but the salt. Because of my life experience, the Gulf is literally part of me, and my blood will run through it forever.

I suppose in turn, my father left a mark on that city, Port Lavaca. He worked with the council and local officials to beautify public areas and enhance the city’s value as a tourist destination — even though it was, in all honesty, a town of poor immigrants, shrimpers and the business interests that took advantage of them. To accomplish such a lofty goal, he successfully mashed competing ideological interests together for the greater good. Part and parcel with his environmental initiatives was constant beach cleanup, ensuring delicate wetland areas were properly protected and the construction of a lengthy bridge fashioned from recycled plastic, with major funding by corporate interests and private donors eager to get some good PR.

I walked that bridge many times. It trails through the wetland to a giant eco-friendly gazebo that looks out over the Gulf at sunrise.

His initiatives worked wonders for the town back then, though I haven’t returned in years. After his death, I inherited a plaque the council and mayor gave him, bearing a large gold key. The inscription calls my father “the best city manager Port Lavaca ever had.”

… And I literally shake with anger at the thought of every bit of my childhood covered in toxic stew: a very real threat so many communities along the Gulf are currently facing.

Sadly, the lying fucking scoundrels at Fox News are trying to make it seem like potentially destroying all of my father’s work, along with the millions of lives and numerous interlocked economies supported by the Gulf, isn’t really that bad. One Fox anchor even claimed that “natural seepage” was worse than the devastating and still-bleeding wound left in the Gulf sea floor.

Over this, I cannot forgive them.

I try to stay about as fair as possible when “reporting” the particulars on the oil gusher story, but this is one massive ecological disaster that stabs me right in the heart. What’s worse, being a media-type, reports or discussions that horrifyingly distort the scope of the thing have been driving me to near rage.

Example A is a recent Fox News segment featuring Brit Hume, in possibly the most glaring case of detachment from reality I’ve ever seen from this scandalous network. It all starts with the frame — having the phony voice of opposition ask if the spill will ever grow to the size of Exxon-Valdez.

“Let’s see if that happens,” Hume says.

(Here’s a hint: that happened in the first four days after the Deepwater Horizon sank. The well has been continuously outputting one Exxon-Valdez volume of oil every 96 hours since April 22.)

“There’s a good question there today, that is if you’re standing on the Gulf, and that is: ‘Where’s the oil?'” Hume shockingly declared. “It — It’s not on, you’re not even seeing it, except for little chunks of it.”

And in comes Chris Wallace to remind Hume that patches of oil are accumulating at the sea floor. What he doesn’t mention is how big they are: the largest being measured at 10 miles long, three miles wide and 90 meters thick, according to The Guardian.

Hume’s response completely reveals him as either an outright shill for oil interests or someone who has truly bought into BP’s laughably false estimate of 5,000 barrels spewing out per day.

It’s more like 70,000, according to scientific analysis of the footage from the sea floor. BP was very reluctant to release video of the main underwater oil gusher, even lying about it’s mysterious delay. This is why.

Amazingly, Hume went and topped himself yet again, further suggesting to the Fox News panel that the Gulf’s “greatest” source of oil contamination is from “natural seepage”.

Watch (as snipped by Think Progress):

As a proud product of a childhood on, in and around the Gulf, I think I speak for every single man, woman and child whose lives are made content, whose wallets are fattened and families fed by the bounty of our sea when I say, Fuck You, Brit Hume.

I rewrote and redacted that four times. “Fuck you” is as polite as it gets.

And to all those politicians who want to take a measly $10 billion out of BP for this horrible and growing disaster, Fuck You Too. Every single person Responsible for this titanic clusterfuck should be begging for their freedom, not grinning smugly at a Senate committee.

The U.S. government would be very justified to outright seize the assets of Transocean, British Petroleum and Halliburton, then shut down for good every last drilling rig surrounding our shores … But, they won’t.

For eight years Fox News coddled Republicans and their favored business interests, building public support for global socialism by and for the wealthy — and now that they’ve achieved it, these assholes have the audacity to call President Obama a “socialist”?

That’s Example B.

Does Hume have any idea how terrified my people on the Gulf are? There’s massive and growing patches of oil that look like animals’ natural habitat creating sprawling dead zones, gnawing holes in a vital food chain and initiating the deaths of millions of creatures. The thing that gives many of our countrymen life could Die in the coming years if this is allowed to continue for too long.

Some experts are predicting the gusher may last years, dumping toxic sludge by the tens of millions of barrels. Get it straight, Fox News: this is a planetary crisis, not some “spill.”

It’s worse than most other oil spills because many in the past have happened in relatively shallow water, so the oil becomes a surface slick that can be dispersed by the same toxic chemicals BP is dumping into the Gulf. That won’t work here because under pressure from 5,000 feet of salt-heavy water with no light in the frightful cold, oil pools at the bottom like air at the top of an undersea cave. As it is slowly broken up, microbes will consume the small amount of oxygen from the surrounding waters. While the oil is bad enough, its after-effect of sucking the very life force out of these waters as it is slowly reabsorbed over the course of years will push this disaster to an even more immense scale.

“So, what’s badly needed here is some perspective on our energy policies and what really goes on when it comes to oil spillage,” Hume concluded.

To my utter dismay, I agree with the lying sack.

Here’s some perspective: The United Nations warned on Monday that Earth’s oceans could be completely emptied of fish in just 40 years if we as a species cannot take control of our own consumption. This means environmental pollution and overharvesting of resources must end, or we continue pursuing a future not only bleak and apocalyptic, but also completely unimaginable from our present standing in this fairweather and wholly delusional faux-reality.

And if anyone out there is wondering who the hell pays people like Hume to get on the news and spread such horrifying lies, just ask yourself: who benefits from the public’s apathy? Anyone doing anything unscrupulous on the public’s dime, is who.

Well, guess what! Example C: Virtually all of the mainstream press is going along with the 5,000 barrel fantasy, parroting BP’s line that they’ve been able to snag a whole “one fifth” of the jetting oil with their non-solution solution via “tube”.

This is a whopper big as the oil discharge itself and much like the slick, it’s growing every day. BP claims they’re netting about 1,000 barrels every 24 hours. By my own understanding of fourth grade math, that means we’ve managed to siphon roughly one-seventieth of the raging torrent — not one fifth — over less than 48 hours.

They’re basically powerless and trying best they can to delay, before the Reality breaks loose. Naturally, Fox News is along for the ride. You could say that corporate America has now circled the wagons, the whole way thanking their lucky stars for the foresight to accumulate virtually all mainstream media under the sway of just five boards of directors.

This is what it looks like when News Corporation, Viacom, Time Warner, Comcast and Disney stand up for their financiers’ interests in a unified front against reality. They know that if you are able to grasp the scale of this mess, their saltwater sand castle might come crashing down.

When Red Cell, a special thinktank within the CIA, was tasked recently with creating a plan to influence European public opinion on the Afghan war so U.S. allies could up their troop commitment, they offered the most obvious explanation of how this is done: through public apathy.

Red Cell’s report actually went point for point with all the main European objections to the war, suggesting counter-points and a new strategy for “tailoring messaging” to maximize the public’s insulation from reality — but they also warn that soon, apathy might not be enough to allow politicians to ignore voters. Soon, new measures may be required.

And that’s it. That, right there. That is why we’re allowing our capitalism to consume our souls. That is what’s so fucked up about our empire’s approach to governing, a process so stitched with greed from its very inception that the shareholders of the company whose rig blew up and caused this disaster just made $1 billion after executives approved a dividend.

If that doesn’t make you angry enough to fantasize about filling up a hundred water balloons with crude and hurling ’em onto an oil executive’s front lawn, I don’t know what would. If I were one of those privileged few men, I’d start getting very jumpy at the sight of fire on the end of a stick right about now.

As a kid growing up on the Gulf, we used to hate mosquitoes because they were absolutely everywhere. They land on your arm or neck or leg, plunge their insidious little tube into your flesh and draw out that which sustains our life. We’d smack the filthy insects, spray them, pinch the skin around their bite and let them suck until they pop or even capture and torch ’em with a magnifying glass. Culling their numbers was like a passive side-mission in everyday life.

From this perspective, I’m starting to look at mosquitoes and offshore oil rigs in a very similar light, and I’m not alone in this.

Our lot in this world can be changed for the better, but we’ve got to Do Something first. The CIA even admits this, but remains unafraid thanks to the powerful social rails that hold capitalistic incentive and the consumer mindset together in harmony. These are not the tools of organizers among the proletariat, making wholly new measures a necessity for any activist of our day.

It all begins with apathy, the subconscious gusher from which our mental pollution springs.

The only real solution is to Smash it.

New Video Game Lets Players Hogtie and Murder Nuns

Rockstar Games has found a way to top itself yet again.

The notorious creators of Grand Theft Auto, which spawned the infamous stripper trick and the Hot Coffee mod, have a new game: Red Dead Redemption.

Like any sandbox-style game, it’s full of wide-open space where players can spontaneously live out their whims of heroism or villainy. The video below is a powerful demonstration of the later.

UPDATE: Sadly, mere hours after this essay went online, publisher Take 2 Games had YouTube pull an included video depicting a nun being hogtied, kidnapped to the desert and ground into bloody chunks under the wheels of a train. You’ll just have to trust me for the moment: Red Dead Redemption lets players do this. I’m sure more clips will spring up very soon as the game releases everywhere on Tuesday. As a substitute, I’ve embedded a trailer depicting many of the game’s female protagonists. Examples of the nun characters can be seen at the beginning and very briefly at the 00:45 mark.

[youtubevid id=”dwk-EctU9ag”]

(Another update: Now Live Leak has the nun-slaying video. Check it out, if you must.)

When players successfully kill another character in this way, it unlocks the “Dastardly” achievement for plus five gamerscore. While I’m not surprised they let outlaw gangsters throw hapless victims in front of trains (this is a western, after all), I am a little surprised they still give a score bonus after mercilessly killing a woman of the cloth.

GTA IV allows players to pick up a health boost by purchasing the services of a prostitute, then get their money back by murdering her … But, the nun is worse, I’ve got to admit.

Being a gamer (and jaded, at that), I’m kinda torn between declaring this funny or sad. I’m all for allowing this level of freedom in a virtual world, but with that freedom it becomes entirely up to the player as to whether something this horrid happens in their game. To my knowledge, there’s no actual mission to murder nuns (although Rockstar once assigned players to indiscriminately slaughter Haitians) — this is just a few twisted dudes inventing their own fun.

Sadly, that’s not what the mainstream press is going to latch onto if Red Dead Redemption becomes the most-talked about New Thing.

There’s plenty of design sensibility in the game development industry to legitimately prevent a player from going so far. The developers of Fable and Fable II, though they allowed players to become evil and lure villagers out of their homes into the dark temple to be sacrificed, blocked gamers from becoming a sort-of pied piper character, leading a caravan of unsuspecting children out of a city to their slaughter.

A similar type of roadblock was possible here — maybe the main character has a point of empathy for nuns or operates on his own twisted sense of honor, perhaps leading the avatar to simply object to doing something so corrupt.

The fact that he does not reveals Rockstar’s allowance for wholesale nun murder to be a very intentional decision. This also likely means that Red Dead Redemption offers an unprecedented level of freedom, hence the promise of nearly limitless play styles for creative gamers.

For the developers, this ethos of giving gamers the reigns will inevitability touch off massive sales. For the media (that’s me), it offers a nice piece of controversy to stick in a headline, ideally followed up by a rational discussion of this type of thing. Even without that discussion, Rockstar has effectively birthed a self-perpetuating publicity typhoon where everyone can benefit — politicians included.

Thank God it’s no longer 1998 and this isn’t The Matrix, or the whole entertainment industry might start wearing spurs and treating forced nun bondage like the new black.

Personally, I can’t wait for the totally skewed “Mass Effect treatment” by Fox News, where they’ll likely declare that Rockstar has made a game which encourages children to molest the clergy. Now that will be a priceless piece of footage.

Red Dead Redemption is rated “Mature”, for gamers 17 and up. If The New York Times is right (they called it a “tour de force”), it looks to be one of the year’s biggest games. Expect Rockstar’s latest opus to go on sale across North America for PS3 and Xbox 360 later this week.

John McCain and The Worst Campaign Ad Ever

Facing a strong challenge from the political right by way of former Congressman J.D. Hayworth, Senator John McCain (R-AZ) is doing his best to appear as conservative as possible.

Apparently, his best is perhaps the worst, most ineffectual, pandering campaign ad ever — that just happens to carry a message he personally mocked in a national magazine interview only three years ago.

Just watch:

“Senator, you’re one of us”? Is he Serious?

Here’s what McCain told Vanity Fair in 2007:

[…] in front of an audience of more sympathetic businessmen, McCain had been asked how debate over the immigration bill was playing politically. “In the short term, it probably galvanizes our base,” he said. “In the long term, if you alienate the Hispanics, you’ll pay a heavy price.” Then he added, unable to help himself, “By the way, I think the fence is least effective. But I’ll build the goddamned fence if they want it.”

He added, “I’m willing to negotiate anything.”

Here’s what McCain said in 2006, noted by MSNBC:

There are over 11 million people in this country illegally. They harvest our crops, tend our gardens, work in our restaurants, care for our children, clean our homes. They came as others before them came, to grasp the lowest rung of the American ladder of opportunity, to work the jobs others won’t, and by virtue of their own industry and desire, to rise and build better lives for their families and a better America. That is our history, Mr. President. We are not a tribe. We are not an ethnic conclave. We are a nation of immigrants, and that distinction has been essential to our greatness.

But yeah, he’s “one of us.”

… “Us,” of course, meaning that old guard of flat-tops whose waning political power has been reduced to passing a flatly unconstitutional, hate-based measure (I refuse to call it “law”) of institutionalized discrimination against people of differing skin pigments. Their melanin-mania is what McCain appeals to here and he should rightly pay a severe political price for it if he manages to trump his Republican challenger in August’s primary.

The ad, which strikes me as bordering on Tim and Eric levels of absurdity, was created by one Fred Davis, arguably the comedy duo’s singular alter-ego in the politics sphere. He’s the guy who created the “Demon Sheep” viral ad for California politico and former HP executive Carly Fiorina in the midst a tough primary battle. His creation was so bizarre, Democrats could only combat it by mockery, hoisting an unofficial sequel that slams Fiorina and promising a part-three, aimed at California Assemblyman Chuck DeVore.

Their Web site is like the dream-skim residue on your frontal lobe, left in the final moments of a bizarrely anthropomorphic nightmare. The Dark Knight was right: escalation is very much alive in all forms of competition, let alone power politics.

Here’s the original “Demon Sheep” ad — and just think of John McCain laughing through the whole thing, ’cause it was apparently enough to get Davis on with the man who was almost president.

And just because it seems to fit, here’s a scene from Tommy Wiseau’s The Room.

A Symphony of Science

Somehow, I knew auto-tuned voices would ultimately contribute to something much greater than the often hilarious “Auto-Tune the News” … And now, that something has arrived.

It’s a project called “Symphony of Science” that aims to impart technical knowledge though music videos that are actually quite thrilling. While there are numerous videos on their site, this one is my hands-down favorite:

Being a proud nerd, I laughed out loud when Stephen Hawking showed up … I bet they didn’t have to auto-tune him much at all.

Their music videos remind me quite a lot of the Large Hadron physics rap that burned up the Internet in 2008. I’d love to see a the product of a collaboration between the CERN employee who put that together and the Symphony folks.

My verdict: this is a total Win for the Internet and a brilliant teaching tool in its own right. Bravo.

The Most Stunning News Photo of 2010 Thus Far

This is, by far, one of the most amazing and humbling news photos I have ever seen, taken in the final moments before the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig vanished beneath the waves.

Click for larger version:

Here’s another very similar shot, but with more fire.

Sadly, I’m clueless as to who snapped this photo so I don’t know who to thank. If anyone has some insight into this, I will gladly chirp the content creator’s name to the heavens. I’ve seen it referenced as a shot taken by a “DOE contractor” (Department of Energy, I presume), but that’s not very specific.

Most of the other news photos of the Deepwater Horizon rig burning are either aerial shots or taken from a great distance, making the full scope of such an enormous disaster seem, well, not as big. This image is unique in that the photographer appears to be much closer to the rig in its final, dramatic moments and the sense of scale conveyed is nothing short of epic.

As one of my colleagues remarked, it looks like something straight out of a James Cameron film.

If someone on the Internet makes this image into a motivational poster, I hope they’ll subtitle it, “Hubris: When you know you fucked up.”

Here’s a video of the rig’s last hurrah, shot from a much greater distance …

[youtubevid id=”6vGEuJzGF8c”]

Fox News Quotes My Reporting on Barry Cooper … And Gets It Wrong

Judge Napolitano, the staple libertarian on Fox News, has a thing for attacking the drug war, and rightfully so.

Sadly, while attempting to shed light on one of the war’s top insurgents, it was accuracy that fell victim to political fervor in a recent segment he aired featuring former narcotics officer Barry Cooper.

Yes, of course you remember him.

Introducing the segment, Napolitano even quoted my reporting (sans credit, of course), noting how Cooper’s activism made him into an “unsuitable” parent in the eyes of police in Williamson County. However, he also made the same mistake as radio host Alex Jones in discussing this case: both libertarian talkers claimed the authorities took Cooper’s step-son Zachary.

This would be wrong.

Granted, Cooper believes Williamson County police contacted Zachary’s father thereby initiating the custody battle, which looks to hinge upon the misdemeanor marijuana charges dealt after police raided the Coopers’ home under most unusual circumstances.

Still, the distinction must be made: the State of Texas, Child Protective Services (CPS) and the Travis County District Attorney’s office are the reason why Barry and his wife did not go to jail for felony child endangerment. Zachary’s father took the boy.

“CPS actually did a good job,” Cooper told Napolitano. “They cleared us, said we’re a good family. The district attorney in Travis County said we’re a good family and all the kids looked happy, healthy and well-cared-for.”

“I think you should accuse these police of kidnapping your child because of your First Amendment activities, which are absolutely protected outside the home and within,” Napolitano said, even after being corrected.

The distinction here is very important.

Too often, government agencies are painted with a broad brush of blame for travesties of justice. In this case, the libertarian tilt of two major media personalities seems to have overridden their commitment to accuracy in reporting.

CPS and Travis County are the saviors in this story and that’s no small fact. Much as anti-government fervor and claims of spectacular tyranny serve to boost their ratings, my countrymen in punditry would be well served to note the error.

When it comes to people who’ve otherwise done an exceptional job in protecting the innocent and digging for truth amid a web of lies and wild exaggerations, there’s no need for tar or feather.

(Speaking of an exceptional job, check out Michael May’s Texas Observer feature on Barry Cooper, available here and on well-cultured news stands across the state.)