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Grassley questions when BP knew early oil leak estimate

By Jeanne Meserve, CNN Homeland Security Correspondent
  • Grassley wants to know when BP arrived at its "worst-case" flow estimate
  • Undated BP document says worst-case rate of 60,000 barrels daily had been calculated
  • Grassley also wants more information on blowout preventers on all BP rigs in Gulf

Washington (CNN) -- Did BP know the Deepwater Horizon well could be gushing as much as 60,000 barrels of oil a day, and fail to inform the public of that? Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, wants to know.

A team of government and independent scientists announced Tuesday that the flow rate might be as high as 60,000 barrels a day, but Grassley believes BP may have known sooner.

A BP document provided to the senator says "an absolute worst case flow rate of 60,000 barrels a day was calculated." The document does not have a date.

Grassley wants to know when those calculations were made and why they were not made public. "Certainly Americans have a right to know," Grassley wrote in a letter to BP chairman and president Lamar McKay.

Grassley is also asking BP to provide more information on the capabilities of the blowout preventers on all its oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico.

A blowout preventer is supposed to seal off a well in an emergency. A key component is the shear ram, which cuts the pipe. The blowout preventer on the Deepwater Horizon couldn't be closed.

In a June 9 letter to Grassley, BP wrote that it submitted all applications for permits "in accordance with the process prescribed by MMS (Minerals Management Service) officials." BP wrote that it was "not aware of any MMS practice" requiring an applicant for an oil rig to document the strength of the shear rams on blowout preventers.

But Grassley counters that regardless of MMS practice, current regulations require the documentation. "I am outraged that MMS is looking the other way," says the senator. He is asking BP to provide any communications that may confirm that MMS allowed BP to violate the law.

In addition, Grassley is asking the company to document that the other rigs it operates in the Gulf of Mexico are in compliance.

BP had no immediate response.