UPDATE 1-BP rejects Markey charge underestimated oil spill

Sun Jun 20, 2010 3:20pm EDT

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HOUSTON, June 20 (Reuters) - BP Plc (BP.L)(BP.N) on Sunday rejected a charge by U.S. Representative Ed Markey that the British company had understated the size of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

"I don't think there's been any underestimating," BP spokesman Toby Odone told Reuters after Markey released a document that the congressman said shows BP has been deceptive.

The internal BP document released by Markey on Sunday shows that the company estimates that a worst-case scenario rate for the Gulf of Mexico oil spill could be about 100,000 barrels (4.2 million gallons/15.9 million liters) of oil per day. [ID:nN20200032]

The undated document states, "If BOP (blowout preventer) and wellhead are removed and if we have incorrectly modeled the restrictions -- the rate could be as high as ~ 100,000 barrels per day up the casing or 55,000 barrels per day up the annulus (low probability worst cases)."

Odone said the document appeared to be genuine but the 100,000 barrels of oil per day estimate applied only in a situation where the well's blowout preventer was removed.

"Since there are no plans to remove the blowout preventer, the number is irrelevant," he said.

But Markey said the document raised troubling questions about what BP knew and when they knew it.

"It is clear that, from the beginning, BP has not been straightforward with the government or the American people about the true size of this spill. Now the families living and working in the Gulf are suffering from their incompetence," Markey said in a statement.

The amount of oil actually gushing from the well has been a matter of considerable controversy since the spill began on April 20. BP initially estimated that the spill was pouring 1,000 barrels per day into the ocean and then upped that figure to 5,000 barrels per day.

The latest U.S. government estimates say up to 60,000 barrels (2.5 million gallons/9.5 million liters) per day are gushing from the ruptured offshore well into the sea.

BP said, however, it had not underestimated the flow rate.

"We've always said we would deal with whatever volume of oil was being spilled, and that's exactly what we're doing. We've mounted the biggest spill response in history," Odone said. (Reporting by Bruce Nichols, Editing by Sandra Maler)

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