Professor who debunked BP's oil spill figures discusses technology

2011-09-20T19:10:00Z 2011-09-20T22:30:10Z Professor who debunked BP's oil spill figures discusses technologyBy Lu Ann Franklin Times Correspondent nwitimes.com
September 20, 2011 7:10 pm  • 

HAMMOND | During the summer of 2010, professor Steve Wereley, of Purdue University West Lafayette, became the international face of opposition to BP and the U.S. government's estimates of just how much oil was spilling into the Gulf of Mexico.

On Tuesday, Wereley launched the Purdue Water Institute lecture series on Purdue University Calumet's Hammond campus.

"Discussions on the Frontier of Water Technology and Research Innovations" focuses on water-related issues in the Calumet Region, said George Nnanna, director for PUC's Water Institute and professor and interim head of the mechanical engineering department.

A professor of mechanical engineering with the Birck Nanotechnology Center on Purdue's West Lafayette campus, Wereley co-invented technology and a technique called Particle Image Velocimetry to measure the speed at which particles flow in water.

He used that program to debunk the official figures released by BP and the federal government about the rate of crude oil and natural gas polluting the Gulf after the Deep Water Horizon platform exploded.

Wereley said a phone call from National Public Radio reporter Richard Harris sent him to his computer to analyze the grainy photos of the shattered pipeline spewing oil and natural gas. Within two hours of applying his formulas, Wereley said he realized the official figures were grossly underestimated.

The video on TV news and online made the pipe appear to be the size of a garden hose, he told students and others at the Tuesday lecture. The pipeline is actually 2 feet in diameter, about the size of a tree trunk.

BP and the U.S. government said 5,000 barrels of crude and natural gas were escaping the pipe daily. Wereley was able to calculate 70,000 barrels a day were pouring out at a rate of more than 2 feet per second.

Two other independent scientists also estimated between 20,000 and 100,000 barrels a day were flowing out of the broken pipeline using less sophisticated techniques.

Within hours of his discovery May 19, Wereley said NPR and national TV programs were interviewing him.

The next day, BP put a "spill cam" in place and finally released better images of the disaster underwater. That same day, Wereley was appointed to the Flow Rate Technology Group under the direction of the U.S. Department of the Interior.

He testified about the extent of the pollution problem before Congress as part of the commission

"I think (my work) was a little bit embarrassing for the (Obama) administration," Wereley said. "It put pressure on BP and the administration to figure out this problem."

The Purdue Water Institute lecture series continues from 11 a.m. to noon Oct. 25 at the Powers Building, Room 123, on Purdue Calumet's Hammond campus. Jorg E. Drewes, associate director of the Colorado School of Mines, will discuss how technologies are used to remove pharmaceutical contaminants from water.

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