The head of the government's flow study group - Ira Leifer - told Dan Froomkin:
The lack of accurate information has taken its toll, he said. If BP had properly understood what was going on 5,000 feet below the surface, it never would have attempted to stop it with a "top hat". And had they realized the pressure from the oil reserves was beyond the threshold for "top kill" they wouldn't have wasted time on that, either. [While BP and the government originally estimated the leak at 1,000 barrels a day, Leifer said that it may be spilling as much as 100,000 barrels a day.]
"We could have effective containment systems available now, if we'd had the measurements," he said.
This is unfortunate. Not only did top hat and top kill waste months of time in which BP could have taken effective steps to contain the oil, but top kill probably made the oil spill worse:
BP's most recent efforts to stop the flow of oil have only made the situation worse, says Leifer. The engineers' attempt to seal off the well from above, using a method known as "top kill," failed and only enlarged the borehole, according to Leifer. Now, he adds, there is almost nothing stopping the oil from flowing out of the well.
Moreover, Leifer previously told the Associated Press that the lack of certainty as to the flow rate will make it more difficult to successfully drill relief wells:
Many unknowns about the flow rate and pressure and quantity of oil coming from the well make it difficult to "design and engineer safe oil recovery systems, such as the 'cap,' nor design and engineer ultimate solutions safely such as the relief wells."
This is important, as the stakes are high:
Independent experts warn that relief wells, like any well, are not without risk. "More oil could leak than before, because the field is being drilled into again," says Fred Aminzadeh, a geophysicist at the University of Southern California. Ira Leifer, a geochemist at the University of California in Santa Barbara, voices similar concerns: "In the worst case, we would suddenly be dealing with two spills, and we'd have twice the problem."
While BP is pretending that it is difficult to determine the amount and pressure of oil flowing out of the gusher, this is not true. Indeed, BP is actively blocking Leifer and other scientists from making the measurements.
Similarly, telling cleanup workers they'll be fired if they use respirators is increasing the toll on human health, and using dispersants to hide the amount of spilled oil is only worsening the long-term damage to marine life.