06/07/2010 11:57 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

This Day In Deepwater Horizon Spill Rate Estimates

Let's return to the matter of how much oil is estimated to be pouring into the Gulf Of Mexico from the Deepwater Horizon rupture, shall we? As anyone who's been following this knows, it's been something of a farce: BP has consistently attempted to low-ball their estimates, while other observers have argued that the spill has been much, much worse. We have now entered the post-robot shears and preliminary containment cap era, however, so let's get the latest from Admiral Thad Allen, who was questioned on the matter by Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday.

WALLACE: Let's start with the report from the head of BP this morning that the containment well, the containment cap on the well is capturing 10,000 barrels of oil a day. Is that true?

ALLEN: That's true. They increased it to 10,000 over 6,000 the day before.

WALLACE: What percentage of the spill does it represent? Do you agree with the head of BP once they adjust the cap, they're going to be able to capture 90% of the spill?

ALLEN: It remains to be seen. I would establish that as a goal. We need to verify what is going on there. They need to slowly close the vents and optimize the amount of oil in production and we'll know for sure.

WALLACE: 10,000 barrels currently, what does it represent as percentage of the spill?

ALLEN: We estimate low end 12,000 barrels a day, to high 19,000 to 25,000 barrels a day. We have a way to catch up to the flow.

WALLACE: You're saying it could be 80% to 40%?

ALLEN: These are rough estimates. One thing production allows us to do is get a handle on the flow measuring the production.

There's a lot to unpack there. First of all, let's take the fact that BP is now saying that the containment cap is "capturing" 10,000 barrels of oil a day, and store that away for later. Let's also note that Allen says that BP "increased" the estimate from 6,000 barrels a day.

The way the Coast Guard sees the matter jumps out at me! "We estimate low end 12,000 barrels a day, to high 19,000 to 25,000 barrels a day." See, another way of saying that is, "We estimate between 12,000 and 25,000 barrels a day." But that 19,000 barrel a day figure finds its way in there, somehow. Basically, the high end estimate has a low end that's much higher than the low end, but the good news is that it's much lower than the high end! Which sure makes me feel a little bit better. Unless of course it's just there to distract me, in which case it makes me feel all oogy and cynical inside. You have to give credit to Wallace for noticing this.

But let's return to what BP is saying now: 10,000 barrels a day, up from an initial estimate of 6,000 barrels a day. Notice what happened there? Here's Sarabeth Guthberg, the Nate Silver of oil spill estimate oversight:

Last we heard, the highest number they had officially committed to was still just 5,000 barrels a day. This was even after the U.S. government's expert panel, the Flow Rate Technical Group, pronounced the spill rate to be between 12,000 and 25,000 barrels a day almost two weeks ago. (Speaking of which, here's a funny story.)

Even after BP announced they were collecting 5,000 barrels a day through a siphon tube inserted into the ruptured pipe, they were careful not to update their previous estimate with an actual number. That's what brought us this immortal piece of spokesmanese:

Now that we are collecting 5,000 barrels a day, (the spill rate) might be a little more than that.

So now that they are producing 10,000 barrels a day, do we have a new and improved official estimate from BP? Ha! They are still playing the same old game, where all they'll say is that the spill rate is a little bit higher than their current collection rate.

Guthberg also notes that White House director of Energy and Climate Control Policy carol Browner has indicated that eventually, fines levied against BP will be based on the estimate of the oil spill. I'm sure that the fine for releasing 5,000 barrels a day into the Gulf Of Mexico will be pretty steep. But surely no one would fault BP for "producing" 10,000 barrels a day, right? (Yes, "containing" oil has somehow become "producing." What a world!)

How Much Oil Would The Oil Spill Gush (If BP Could Gush Truth)? [1115]

[Would you like to follow me on Twitter? Because why not? Also, please send tips to -- learn more about our media monitoring project here.]