BP’s promises

BP’S PROMISES…. As recently as March, BP was nothing but confident in its ability to respond to the kind of disastrous spill that would begin a month later. How confident? Enough to make some fairly specific promises about the company’s capabilities.

In the 77 days since oil from the ruptured Deepwater Horizon began to gush into the Gulf of Mexico, BP has skimmed or burned about 60 percent of the amount it promised regulators it could remove in a single day.

The disparity between what BP promised in its March 24 filing with federal regulators and the amount of oil recovered since the April 20 explosion underscores what some officials and environmental groups call a misleading numbers game that has led to widespread confusion about the extent of the spill and the progress of the recovery.

“It’s clear they overreached,” said John F. Young Jr., council chairman in Louisiana’s Jefferson Parish.

You think?

The March report, which federal officials should have pushed back on but didn’t, insisted that in the event of a major spill, BP had the capacity to skim and remove over 491,000 barrels of oil a day. As of yesterday, those remarkable BP skimming capabilities were averaging less than 900 barrels a day.

If my math is right*, that means BP’s skimming and removal efforts are operating at less than 0.2% of the promised capacity. The oil giant only exaggerated its abilities by a factor of 500.

With an estimated total of about 2 million barrels having already been released into the Gulf of Mexico, BP has captured only 67,143 barrels — or about 3% of the total.

BP officials declined to comment on the validity of early skimming projections, stressing instead the company’s commitment to building relief wells intended to shut down the still-gushing well.

“The numbers are what they are,” said BP spokesman Toby Odone.

Yes, and they are wrong. The company line is that it will revisit, “at some point,” why its promises were so wrong, but the immediate goal is the ongoing crisis. Fine. But in the meantime, let’s keep in mind what these broken promises tell us about BP’s credibility on the subject.

* Update: It turns out my math wasn’t right. I’ve corrected the percentages, and appreciate the readers who let me know about the error.