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Fact Check: Mary Landrieu’s Montara Oil Spill Figure

Like several of my colleagues have said, I think it’s important for us to really examine the facts, and to try to seek the truth relative to the benefits and, um, the risk associated with energy production. I particularly like the term “stewardship,” and I believe that stewardship actually begins with presenting facts in a way that tell the truth about what’s really happening in offshore and onshore oil and gas.

– Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu, November 19 2009

Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana arriving late to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee meeting on November 19, 2009These are the words Mary Landrieu spoke today in a hearing of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee as part of more than 13 minutes of remarks in which she asked no questions, in which she refused to allow witnesses to speak, but instead made declarative statements about the “truth.”

Senator Landrieu’s version of the truth:

The spill that you cited in Australia, which causes some people to back up, I want to give you these details here. You said it was the largest spill in Australia’s history. It’s true. It leaked 823,000 gallons of oil.

A quick fact check:

1. There is no mention in any news report of this 823,000 gallon figure for the size of the Montara oil spill in the Timor Sea between Australia and Indonesia, the spill to which Senator Landrieu refers.

2. PTTEP, the oil exploration corporation responsible for the spill, has estimated the size of the spill at between 300 and 400 barrels of oil every day. This is the same corporation that estimated, again and again and again that it was just about to stop the oil spill when nothing of the sort occurred. In Australian Senate hearings, PTTEP refused to provide any documentation to the Australian government for its claim of 300-400 barrels spilled every day, and none has yet emerged. But even if PTTEP’s estimates turned out to be correct, they would be larger than Senator Landrieu’s figures. At PTTEP’s most conservative estimation of a 300 barrel-per-day leak, for 75 days (between August 21 and November 3), with 42 gallons of oil per barrel, we’d have 945,000 gallons of oil spilled in the Timor Sea, well over a hundred thousand gallons more than the figure Mary Landrieu identifies. At PTTEP’s second estimate of 400 barrels per day leaked, more than 1.2 million gallons of oil would have been lost to the sea.

3. According to testimony by Australia’s Department of Resources, Energy & Tourism, up to 2,000 barrels of oil have leaked from the Montara rig every day, leading to an estimate of a 6,300,000 gallon oil leak.

4. According to testimony before the committee by Skytruth founder John Amos, current estimates of the magnitude of the Montara oil spill range from 1.2 million gallons to 9 million gallons.

Not one piece of available information, other than Senator Landrieu’s mouth, supports the figure of a 823,000 gallon leak. If Mary Landrieu has super-secret information about the actual size of the leak, we all must hope she will release it to the world very soon.

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