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BP lawyers have communicated to the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling (Commission) that government estimates of the size of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill are too big by as much as 20 to 50 percent. The estimate will determine how many billions of dollars of fines BP could face under the Clean Water Act, which includes penalties for spilling oil from $1,100 a barrel to $4,300 if negligence is proven. BP is disputing the estimate that roughly 5 million barrels of oil were released by the Macondo well. If the higher numbers are used, the penalties could approach $22 billion.  BP has already committed to spending $20 billion for clean up of the Gulf.

The estimates are being made by the Energy Department and an inter-agency group. BP believes the estimate is biased toward the maximum amount of oil that could have been discharged, rather than the amount of oil most likely to have been discharged. BP asserts that government and other academic experts did not properly take into account factors such as temperature differences, the amount of natural gas mixed in, and partial blockages from bent pipes, partial closure of the blowout preventer and from debris.

The government has estimated that 62,000 barrels a day initially gushed from the Macondo well after the blowout, later dropping to 53,000 barrels as the reservoir was depleted. But the flow rate has been a subject of dispute from the early days of the spill, when the government estimated that 5,000 barrels a day were leaking into the gulf. (Wash Post, 12/4/2010)