WASHINGTON — BP pulled 25,290 barrels of oil from its runaway Deepwater Horizon site on Thursday, the company said Friday — another high point in its collection efforts but one that adds to the uncertainty over how much oil is flooding into the Gulf of Mexico and whether the Obama administration is prepared for the worst case scenario.
The new number would suggest that BP is now recovering between 42 and 70 percent of the oil surging from the well, if the most recent government estimate that the well is spewing between 35,000 and 60,000 barrels of oil a day is accurate. BP's live video feed from the leak, however, continues to show dark clouds of crude oil and natural gas pouring into the water.
On Friday, Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen called the lower number — 35,000 barrels per day — the "most probable" figure for the amount of oil coming from the well. Asked during the briefing why he was citing the lower number as "most probable," Allen said he was taking his lead from the head of the U.S. Geological Survey, Marcia McNutt, who is chairing the panel of scientists the Obama administration assembled to estimate the leak's flow.
"There are some members of the group that think it's much higher" than 35,000 barrels per day, Allen said. "But I think the thinking of the group, as represented by the chair, is in the mid-30s."
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When Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced the 35,000 to 60,000 barrel per day estimate on Tuesday, he cautioned that it was preliminary, and that the 60,000 figure might be adjusted upward. He did not refer to the 35,000 estimate as the "most probable."
McNutt was quoted as saying only that "each of the methodologies that the scientific teams is using has its advantages and shortcomings, which is why it is so important that the scientific teams have taken several approaches to solving this problem. Under the leadership of Admiral Allen, we will continue to revise and refine the flow rate estimate as our scientific teams get new data and conduct additional analyses."
Steve Werely, a mechanical engineering professor at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., who told Congress last month that the flow rate might be 95,000 barrels a day, disagreed that 35,000 was the "most likely value," though he also said he no longer believes 95,000 is accurate either.
"I wouldn't be surprised if the actual flow rate were 45 or 50k," he said in an e-mail.
He also said that "it looks as if a significant amount is still escaping." But he said judging the amount of escaping oil from the video "is extremely difficult because the flow from the vents and from under the cap is extremely disorganized."
The flow rate has been an issue for weeks, amid accusations that the Obama administration has been slow to marshal resources needed to respond to the leak. For most of May, the Obama administration said that just 5,000 barrels a day were flowing from the well, despite estimates from university researchers who said video of the leak suggested that as much as 70,000 barrels were spewing from the well daily.
On May 27, the government offered two new estimates, 12,000 to 19,000 a day, and at least 12,000 to 25,000 a day, with no high-end estimate possible because of inadequate data. That number was pushed to 20,000 to 40,000 on June 10 and then five days later to the current 35,000 to 60,000.
BP said Thursday's collection efforts included 9,270 barrels captured by the Q4000 drilling platform and burned and 16,020 barrels recovered through a "top hat" containment dome placed aboard the well's blowout preventer on June 3.
BP has said it hopes to collected as much as 28,000 barrels through those two hookups. A third ship to be added by the end of June will bring the amount of oil captured to between 40,000 and 53,000 barrels daily, BP officials hope.
(Renee Schoof contributed to this report.)