Pick a number: 12,600 barrels . . . 20,000 . . . 21,500 . . . 25,000 . . . 30,000 . . . 40,000 . . . 50,000. Scientists put every one of those numbers in play as they struggled to come up with a solid estimate of how much oil is gushing each day from the black geyser at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico.
The one scientific certainty: It's a lot — and more than some of the same scientists thought just a couple of weeks ago. It's so much that the crews trying to siphon it to the surface are going to need a bigger boat.
Early in the crisis, BP and the federal government repeatedly said that the Deepwater Horizon well was spewing about 5,000 barrels (210,000 gallons at 42 gallons a barrel) a day. But the new estimates, released Thursday by government-appointed scientists, show that the well most likely produces 5,000 barrels before breakfast.
One team that has studied video of the leaking riser pipe before it was cut and capped last week has concluded that the well was most likely producing between 25,000 and 30,000 barrels a day.
Another scientific team, which analyzed satellite images, has come up with a somewhat more modest estimate of 12,600 to 21,500 barrels a day, just a slight uptick from the team's earlier finding.
Or the flow could be much higher still: A team led by scientists from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution has studied the leak with instruments normally used in research on deep-sea hydrothermal vents. Its initial estimate puts the flow at 25,000 to 50,000 barrels a day, said U.S. Geological Survey director Marcia McNutt, who leads the teams of scientists collectively known as the Flow Rate Technical Group.
The flow rate is significant on several fronts. First, it gives the government and BP a sense of how much capacity they'll need among surface ships to handle all the oil gushing out the well and up a pipe to the Discoverer Enterprise drill ship, which is capable of processing about 18,000 barrels a day. Other ships are being added to the effort.
Second, the fines that BP faces will be tied to how many barrels of oil have leaked.
"BP screwed up a fundamental engineering calculation, and as a consequence, they had some bad numbers out there, and they gave these numbers to the Coast Guard," said oceanographer Ian MacDonald of Florida State University, who early in the crisis announced his own estimate of 26,500 barrels a day. "They underestimated the size of the slick on the surface, and they neglected to account for the oil that was being lost in the mid-water."
USF consortium may get $10 million
The Florida Institute of Oceanography may soon be getting $10 million from BP for oil research.
The consortium of colleges and environmental groups housed at the University of South Florida recently asked BP for $100 million for research in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon disaster. Thursday evening, FIO president William Hogarth, who is also the dean of the College of Marine Sciences at USF, had a verbal agreement and a handshake with an executive at BP confirming $10 million would be fast tracked to the institute, according to USF spokeswoman Vickie Chachere. "They've given us their word," she said. "We have no reason to believe that they're not going to follow through on what they said."
Still, nothing is official. More concrete developments could happen over the weekend, Chachere said.
The institute comprises 21 schools and groups aiming to monitor waters independently, document evolving conditions and develop technologies that detect oil spills before they cause irreversible harm.
Crist gives fishers a bit of good news
HERNANDO BEACH — Commercial fishers in this beleaguered waterfront community and around the state got some welcome news Friday.
In answer to their pleas for economic relief, Gov. Charlie Crist has extended the state's commercial license renewal period from July 1 to Sept. 30 because of the uncertainty and financial hardships caused by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
"The commercial fishing industry needs some time to regroup because of misperceptions that Florida's seafood has been affected by the oil spill,'' Crist said in a news release on Friday.
In addition to the temporary fee waiver, the governor also announced that the bay scallop season will open 12 days earlier this year. That means the first day of scallop season will be June 19.
Clearwater couple says BP ruined house
CLEARWATER — A local couple has filed a $5 billion class-action lawsuit against BP in federal court, saying the company is responsible for the losses they and others have incurred because of the oil spill.
Athanasios and Evdokia Gionis, who live in the Island Estates neighborhood, say the value of their home has plummeted since the spill. The home is on the Intracoastal Waterway with direct access to the Gulf of Mexico. It features a dock and boathouse and until the spill, was the couple's "most valuable asset," the suit states.
According to property records, the Gionises bought the 1,840-square-foot home in 1976 for $68,000. It was worth nearly $450,000 in 2009.
The couple filed the suit Thursday in federal court in Tampa.
Times staff writers Stephanie Hayes, Logan Neill and Kameel Stanley contributed to this report, which contains information from the Washington Post and Associated Press.