November 22, 2010 / 6:34 PM / 9 years ago

BP oil spill fight hurt by low flow estimate-panel

* BP containment effort hampered by low flow estimate

* Govt, industry unprepared to deal with deepwater spill

* Firms may need to prove they can handle deepwater spills

By Ayesha Rascoe

WASHINGTON, Nov 22 (Reuters) - BP’s (BP.L) early fight to contain the massive oil spill at its ruptured Macondo well may have failed because the oil giant underestimated how much oil was gushing into the Gulf of Mexico, the White House oil spill commission said on Monday.

BP’s complex “top kill” maneuver, which sought to smother the leak by pumping heavy drilling mud into well, likely failed because BP did not pump mud at high enough rates to counter the actual flow of the well, according to a staff paper released by the spill panel.

“If BP had devoted a fraction of the resources it expended on the top kill to obtaining a more accurate early estimate of the flow rate, it might have better focused its efforts on the containment strategies that were more likely to succeed,” the report said, quoting a government official it did not name.

Millions of barrels of oil flowed unchecked into the Gulf over the summer as BP and the government tried to stop the leak after an April 20 explosion on the Deepwater Horizon damaged the Macondo well.

The seven-member commission, charged with guiding offshore oil drilling in the wake of the BP spill, will hold public deliberations in early December, and is set to release its recommendations in January.

The government’s official flow estimate at the start of the “top kill” procedure was 5,000 barrels per day, much less than its later estimates of about 62,000 bpd for the early days in the spill.

Flow rate estimates may have also hurt BP’s attempt to mitigate the spill with a containment dome.

The commission’s staff paper provides a detailed look at the effort to contain the deepwater spill, noting that neither the government, nor the oil industry was prepared to respond.

Oversight of containment efforts by government regulators was limited at the start of the spill due to a lack of resources and expertise, according to the paper

The commission’s paper said the panel should weigh whether the government needs to develop more “in-house expertise” in petroleum engineering and whether companies should be required to equip key drilling equipment with diagnostic tools that would provide more details in the event of a blowout.

BP, with all of its financial resources, still needed 87 days to stop flow of oil into the Gulf, the paper noted. The government may need to consider mandating smaller deepwater operators prove they have capacity to respond to a major oil spill. (Reporting by Ayesha Rascoe; Editing by David Gregorio)

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