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BP oil leak likely far less than 100,000 bpd

 * Oil leak of 100,000 bpd "next to impossible"
 * Leak won't deplete the Macondo oil prospect
 WASHINGTON, May 4 (Reuters) - Nobody knows the rate that
oil is leaking out of BP's Macondo well nearly a mile under the
waters of the Gulf of Mexico, but one U.S. official's estimate
of 100,000 barrels per day is nearly impossible, industry and
environmental sources said on Tuesday.
 The leak may become the worst U.S. oil spill in history,
but petroleum experts said the rate was almost certainly much
less than the doomsday figure raised at the weekend by U.S.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. [ID:nN02158331]
 After examining the size of the oil slick on top of the
water, BP BP.L estimated that the leak rate from the Macondo
well was 5,000 bpd, up sharply from is initial estimated rate
of about 1,000 bpd.
 The Coast Guard, which has used remote underwater cameras
to help estimate the volume of the leaks, also says it is about
5,000 bpd. While a much slower rate than some had feared, at
that rate the leak could eclipse the Exxon Valdez disaster by
around mid-June.
 "To have such a high production of 100,000 barrels, that is
physically next to impossible," said a petroleum engineer at a
U.S. university, who asked not to be identified.
 Even in top producer Saudi Arabia, individual wells
typically produce only 20,000 to 30,000 barrels per day. BP's
250,000 bpd capacity Thunder Horse deepwater Gulf of Mexico
project, which drew first oil in June 2008, required around
three dozen production and injection wells, according to
company data.
 Additionally, at a depth of some 5,000 feet (1,525 meters),
the weight of the water partly staunches the flow, the
petroleum engineer said.
 SkyTruth, an environmental group that has looked at
satellite pictures of the sheen from April 28, estimates the
leaks are closer to 20,000 bpd. Two Texas-based petroleum
geologists, who did not want to be identified, said that rate
or a bit less was much more likely than the 100,000 bpd flow.
 Beyond discounting the possibilities of the highest
estimates, it is difficult to determine the rate without
knowing things like the reservoir pressure, the total depth of
the well and the find's geology.
 "We don't have any physical way to measure this," said Bob
Fryar, senior vice president of Angola for BP. "We're clearly
not metering the flow. We don't have flowing pressures at the
well."
 Answers could come as soon as a week or two after BP lowers
a 98-ton iron box it has built to channel oil from the leaking
pipe on the sea floor to the surface. In theory, the funnel
would capture 85 percent of the oil rising from the floor. This
type of fix, however, has never been attempted at such depth.
 The two-week old disaster that left 11 dead after the rig
exploded threatens fishing and tourism along the Gulf Coast and
threatens to put the brakes on the U.S. climate bill, which
aimed to boost offshore oil drilling.
 (Reporting by Timothy Gardner, additional reporting by Kristen
Hays in Houston; Editing by David Gregorio and Marguerita
Choy)


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