Analyst Puts BP Gulf Oil Spill Into Perspective

The debate continues over exactly how much oil is spewing from a ruptured well in the Gulf of Mexico. Some scientists who have reviewed video of the busted pipe say it could be somewhere around 50 to 70-thousand barrels a day, while BP has held fast to its official figure of 5-thousand barrels day. Either way, it’s a lot of oil. And one researcher has come up with a ‘different’ way to quantify it. David Pitman reports.


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Paul JJ Payack is the President and self-described Chief Word Analyst at the Global Language Monitor in Austin.? His job is to look at the use of language in the media.

“When we see a story where people are talking about things over and over again, and it starts having a narrative on its own, there are all these things that aren’t quantified.? And what we try to do is find out what the reality is behind the story and go from there.”

Each barrel of oil contains 42 gallons, which can be refined into about 19 gallons of gasoline, depending on the grade of the crude.? Payack says the question he wanted to answer is how much energy is being lost if the BP estimate of 5,000 barrels a day is what’s actually coming out of the well.

“And it turns out that you get about enough to have 5,000 cars go 390 miles.”

Or, put another way, that’s 5,000 cars making a one-way trip from Los Angeles to San Francisco, assuming those cars get at least 20 miles per gallon.? Payack says the claim by the CEO of BP that the spill is a drop in the bucket in relation to the capacity of the oceans may strike some as condescending, but it’s not true.? It’s actually less than a drop — at under one part per million.

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David Pitman

David Pitman


David was HPM’s local Morning Edition host from 2009 to 2020 -- when he was moved to the position of Technical Director of Houston Matters with Craig Cohen, and Town Square with Ernie Manouse. David has extensive public and commercial broadcast journalism and production experience dating back to 1993 –...

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