Oil giant BP believes a worst-case oil spill nearly a mile below the Atlantic off Scotland would dwarf the U.S. Gulf oil spill, internal documents indicate.
The contingency plans for a worst-case spill from a proposed exploratory well in wildlife-rich British waters off the Shetland Islands indicate a sea-floor oil gusher would spew 75,000 barrels of crude oil a day for 140 days before it could be capped -- more than double the Gulf of Mexico spill's 88-day average 53,000 barrels a day from April 20-July 15, 2010, the documents reviewed by Britain's Independent newspaper indicated.
The Gulf spill's wellhead released about 4.9 million barrels before it was capped. The proposed North Uist exploratory well's worst-case gusher would release 10.5 million barrels, the BP documents forecast.
A BP spokesman told the newspaper the global oil and gas company was required by law to model the worst-case scenario.
"But the reality is, the chances of a spill are very unlikely," he said.
The Gulf spill, the largest accidental oil spill in history, was triggered by the April 20, 2010, Deepwater Horizon drilling-rig explosion that killed 11 men on the platform and injured 17 others. Since then, BP has invested "a huge amount of time and resources strengthening procedures, investing in additional safety equipment and further improving our oil-spill response capability," the spokesman told The Independent.
In particular, a major new well-capping device, designed for use at depths of as much as 10,000 feet, or nearly 2 miles, could quickly be deployed, he said.
In addition, any leak from North Uist would likely be at a much lower pressure than the gushing wellhead in the Gulf, he added.
The Gulf well was a mile below the water's surface. The North Uist well -- named after the Scottish Outer Hebrides island but located 80 miles northwest of Scotland's Shetland archipelago -- would be 8/10 of a mile deep.
Environmentalists say the well's planned seabed location is in waters among the most wildlife-rich in all of Britain. Seabirds, including many rare species, are found in enormous concentrations, along with large numbers of whales, dolphins and seals and substantial fish stocks.
The well-drilling project appeared to have been shelved by former BP Chief Executive Officer Tony Hayward in the barrage of anti-BP criticism following the Deepwater Horizon spill, The Independent said.
But under Hayward replacement Bob Dudley, who is also in charge of BP's Gulf Coast restoration program, the North Uist well got BP's green light, as part of the company's "Atlantic Frontier" focus to replace the North Sea's dwindling productivity, the newspaper said.
The well is awaiting a final OK from British Energy Secretary Chris Huhne, expected by the end of the year.
The House Natural Resources Committee was scheduled to hold a hearing Thursday on the Gulf of Mexico spill.
Committee Chairman Doc Hastings, R-Wash., said investigators from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement and U.S. Coast Guard were expected to testify.
An investigation by the bureau and U.S. Coast Guard blamed the accident on BP, rig owner Transocean Ltd. and oilfield services contractor Halliburton Co., responsible for cementing operations, for seven alleged regulatory violations.
"The failure of the cement barrier allowed hydrocarbons to flow up the wellbore, through the riser and onto the rig, resulting in the blowout," the September report said.