Only 43.7 Percent of Gulf 'Oil Spill' Was Actually Oil

Today, Friday June 29, is the day that Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute (WHOI) researchers are required to provide "criminal" defendant Kurt Mix, a former BP completions engineer, with the flow rate data they wanted to hide behind a claim of academic privilege. The federal government has based its claims for per-barrel pollution fines against BP largely on the WHOI data. And one obstacle to the government collecting huge fines under the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 (OPA) is any challenge to its estimates as to how much oil actually got into the Gulf of Mexico. As an engineer involved in the source containment effort, Mr. Mix's testimony could cause the court to doubt the government's estimates. Hence the absurd charges against Mr. Mix, whose only "crime" was the diligently work to "plug the damn hole," as President Obama so succinctly put it. Mr. Mix had absolutely nothing to do with the fatal accident that caused the flow of oil into the sea, he only took part in the "source control" efforts.

In yet another example of this administration's blame shifting strategy, it has sought to distract the public's attention from the fact that under the OPA, once it became evident that the Responsible Party" (RP), BP in this case, had demonstrated an inability to deal with the pollution it had caused, the President could declare it to be a Spill Of National Significance (SONS) and appoint a National Incident Commander (NIC) to take charge and deal with the problem. On May 1, 2010, President Obama made the declaration and appointed the then Commandant of the Coast Guard, Admiral Thad Allen, as National Incident Commander. As of that date, President Obama and Admiral Allen owned the source control efforts. This was entirely in line with pre-existing doctrine calling on the Coast Guard to be the lead government agency in dealing with pollution on navigable waters.

So let us turn to the FINAL ACTION MEMORANDUM - INCIDENT SPECIFIC PREPAREDNESS REVIEW (ISPR) DEEPWATER HORIZON OIL SPILL dated March 18, 2011 by Admiral Allen's successor as Commandant, Admiral R. J. Papp Jr. which is now available under the Freedom of Information Act here. On Page 34 of the report (pg. 43 of the pdf) we find this statement:

June 21: Following further testing, WHOI releases a best estimate of oil to gas ration (sic) into the Gulf of Mexico of 43.7 percent oil. Previous estimates were 29 percent.

How inconvenient that statement must be to those in government expecting to collect huge fines from Mr. Mix's former employer, BP. [It seems Mr. Mix got an offer of a job in Australia, where the government has not imposed a drilling moratorium on oil exploration and production, and he sought to go there in pursuit of a healthy economic future for himself and his family]. He is obviously an independent and informed thinker, just the kind of person who would make a dangerous witness in court. He seems to be the kind of guy who might testify under oath that if one were to take the government's own estimate of a total flow of oil and gas from the well of 4.9 million barrels, deduct the 800,000 barrels of oil collected at the surface by various means (leaving 4.1 million barrels) and multiply by the government's own WHOI estimate that only 43.7 percent of the remainder was oil, and therefore covered by the fines set forth in the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, one is left with a total finable oil spill of 1.792 million barrels. Applying the maxumum fine of $1,100 per barrel, the maximum fines allowable under law would be $1.97 billion.

Now the reason for the government's attempt to discredit Mr. Mix before the trial becomes evident. They want to try to discredit him before he can spoil their plans to create a government slush fund of BP fine money totaling in the tens of billions. So in the spirit of Diogenes, the Greek philosopher and Cosmopolitan "Cynic" let us point out another little detail from Admiral Papp's document. On page 29 it reads:

The final solution to the Macondo well blowout was the successful (sic) completion of the relief well on September 17, some 148 days after the disaster occurred...

On the very next page we read:

Relief wells are the last resort for source control (and final spill abatement) from an offshore blowout. Other measures need to be in place.

So there you have it straight from the government's own most authoritative expert, relief wells are NOT the answer. Which begs the question going forward, "What would the United States Government do if the Cubans underwent a deepwater oil blowout in their territorial waters"? One that created a spill that threatened to spread to the Florida Keys and the Atlantic coast of the United States via the Gulf Stream? Would we propose that they immediately start drilling two relief wells, as this Administration did with the Deepwater Horizon, to achieve their own "final solution"?

A cynical mind thinks that the government wants to bury all these embarrassing details in a settlement that also creates the largest slush fund possible. Don't hold your breath waiting for the spill to go to trial.

Bruce Thompson wrote the first publicly accessible "Management of Change" document explaining the whys and the wherefores of what later became known as the "static kill" that in Admiral Papp's report is noted thus: "August 4, 2010 - Day 107: Static kill is determined successful."  He can be contacted through his blog Machias Privateer or by e-mail at