Assessing the Size of the Deepwater Horizons Oil Spill

Steve Wereley, Purdue University

Wednesday, October 27, 2010 | 04:15 PM - 05:15 PM | Building 420, Room 40 | Free and Open to All

On May 13 Professor Wereley used optical feature tracking to estimate the volume flow of oil from the on-going BP Macondo oil field spill.  Several other independent scientists also performed similar measurements at about the same time.  These several measurements were all in the ballpark of 20,000-100,000 barrels per day--greatly in excess of the estimates provided by BP of 5,000 barrels per day.  The unforeseen effect of these first independent flow rate calculations was to bring the issue of oil flow rate to the fore.  Wereley was subsequently appointed to a government task force called the Flow Rate Technical Group (FRTG) to calculate an official government flow rate estimate.  The group arrived at a final estimate of 35,000-60,000 barrels of oil per day after requesting and receiving better quality and longer videos of the oil flow.  In conjunction with the Department of Energy and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, the FRTG arrived at a final total crude oil release estimate of 4.9 million barrels—over 200 million gallons or nearly 20 Exxon Valdez-type accidents.  This presentation/discussion will center on those calculations, their limitations, their improvement and their future uses in this on-going disaster.

Part 3: Miniseries on Energy Impact


Professor Wereley has bachelor degrees in Physics (Lawrence University, 1990) and Mechanical Engineering (Washington University, St. Louis, 1990) followed by masters and doctoral degrees from Northwestern University (1992 and 1997). He is currently Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Purdue University where he has been working since 1999 and a Fellow at the Center of Smart Interfaces, Technische Universität Darmstadt (Germany). Professor Wereley served as an Alexander von Humboldt Fellow at Technische Universität Darmstadt (2007) and Universität der Bundeswehr (2009). His current research interests focus on fluid flows in microscopic domains, commonly known as microfluidics. Professor Wereley is the co-author of the monographs Fundamentals and Applications of Microfluidics (Artech House, 2002 and 2006) and Particle Image Velocimetry: A Practical Guide (Springer, 2007). The latter book led to his involvement with the oil spill.

Background Reading:, provides an archive of the underwater videos of the oil spill in the gulf.  And  the recent press release explaining the source of videos and creation of the web can be found at

Gulf Spill May Far Exceed Official Estimates, NPR story that first broke the flow rate issue.

Professor Steven Wereley Engineer Who Estimates Oil Spill At 70,000 Barrels A Day, BBC News report from the early days of the flow rate issue.

Subcommittee Briefing on "Sizing up the BP Oil Spill: Science and Engineering Measuring Methods", Congressional testimony on the flow rate issue

U.S. Scientific Teams Refine Estimates of Oil Flow from BP’s Well Prior to Capping, Final press release on oil spill volume

National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling, Recent presidential report on the amount and fate of the oil in the Gulf.

Particle Image Velocimetry, Textbook on PIV

PBS Frontline joins with the investigative non-profit ProPublica to examine the trail that led to the disaster in the Gulf.

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