Live from the Ocean Floor: New Oil Leak Widget Features ‘Spillcam’

BY Hari Sreenivasan  May 21, 2010 at 8:00 PM EDT

BP’s live video stream of oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico is simultaneously tragic and hypnotic. With each passing second, more gallons of crude oil and natural gas escape into the ocean.

Until Thursday, BP and NOAA had stood by their early estimate — produced April 29, a week after the Deepwater Horizon rig sank — that about 5,000 barrels (210,000 gallons) were leaking per day from the damaged well, although they had acknowledged that the estimate was not precise.

And after the world first witnessed the 30-second video clip that BP released on May 12, scientists began to wonder more loudly how the estimate could be that low.

Now, thanks in part to congressional pressure, we have a way to watch the environmental crisis unfold in real time via a live video feed. We modified our original Gulf Leak Meter because the video takes our sliding scale out of the abstract and into reality.

View original ticker. Last updated 11 a.m. ET on May 27.

Our first oil widget, which we released May 9 and continue to update, allows readers to choose scenarios based on the best guesses (because that is truly what they were) of the spill’s size. On May 14, we spoke with some outside experts for more perspectives on how much oil might be flowing from the leak. And on May 17, we factored in that BP was reporting some success in siphoning 2,000 barrels of oil per day out of the leaking well.

Here’s a look at some of the other numbers that form the basis of our oil leak range, including our update on May 21 about reports of a new estimate on the way:

A new “flow rate technical team” comprised of outside experts and multiple government agencies is beginning work on a new estimate of the leak’s magnitude, which could come as early as this weekend. We’ll update both our widgets until the leak is stopped.

Wire services reported Friday evening that the White House plans to name former Florida Sen. Bob Graham and former EPA administrator William K. Reilly to lead the presidential commission investigating the oil leak.