The recent spill after the destruction of the Deepwater Horizon is releasing large quantities of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. The reports are still unclear about the amount of oil that this well is releasing. Information about the underwater drilling methods and the field itself provides data which can help estimate the amount of oil that the Macondo Prospect will release.

Initial estimates were that the oil well was releasing about a thousand barrels per day, although the situation has deteriorated further since April 22nd. A month of efforts did not stop the oil flow and additional reports are that the rate of flow has greatly increased.

The Macondo well is located in one of the oil fields in the Gulf of Mexico. According to Columbia University, there may be as much as 46 billion barrels of oil in the area. Individual oil fields contain a portion of this total. The Tiber field, which is also operated by BP, is estimated to contain 3 billion barrels of oil. The Deepwater Horizon worked on the Tiber well before it was moved to the Macondo well, so an earlier disaster would have had the potential to cause a leak from the Tiber field.

A deep water well can release a lot more than a thousand barrels of oil a day. BP and the other petroleum extraction companies moved to deep water because wells there can access large reservoirs which are still untapped, producing much greater amounts of oil than current shallow water and land oil fields in the United States. According to Columbia University, single oil wells in the Gulf of Mexico can produce more than 100,000 barrels of oil per day during a controlled extraction. A blowout will release oil faster since the ground breaks apart under the pressure. Some reports mention average rates of 2000 barrels per day or 5000 barrels per day. Professor Ian MacDonald, who teaches classes at Florida State University, estimates that the oil flow rate from the Macondo well is around 26,000 barrels per day.

Steve Wereley, a professor of mechanical engineering at Purdue University, provided additional estimate information on the size of the oil spill in testimony in front of the House. Legal penalties apply to anyone who gives false testimony in front of Congress. Dr. Wereley’s calculations show that around 72,000 barrels of oil are being released into the Gulf each day, and he gives a range of 56,000 to 84,000 barrels per day because of the margin of error. Other presenting scientists provided a wider range of between 20,000 and 100,000 barrels of oil, this is a specific research field of Dr. Wereley so he can give a more precise estimate. This information matches the information from Columbia about how much oil a deep water well is capable of releasing under controlled conditions.