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By Catharine Richert May 13, 2010

Landrieu says the Deepwater Horizon well is leaking 7,000 barrels of oil each day and a half

In the wake of a massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, critics of offshore drilling are calling on lawmakers to rethink domestic energy policy.

But Sen. Mary Landrieu, a Democrat from Louisiana, says the industry has a good record.

Oil production -- a major industry in her home state -- should not be shut down because of one accident, she argued in a May 4, 2010, interview on CNN.

"In the last 10 years we've only had 7,000 barrels of oil spilled in the Gulf... not counting hurricanes," she told host John King. "This well is spewing that amount every day and a half. So relatively speaking to the other wells that have been drilled, this is spilling a huge amount of oil."

We're not going to rule on Landrieu's underlying point, that oil drilling is safe, which is a matter of opinion. But we can explore whether she is correct about the magnitude of the Deepwater Horizon accident compared with others in the past decade.

Landrieu's office pointed us to a document prepared for them by Minerals Management Service, the arm of the Department of Interior that oversees oil production. According to the report, a total of 31,122 barrels of crude oil, diesel, lube oil and gasoline were spilled in the Gulf between 2000 and 2009. That includes 24,069 barrels spilled during Hurricanes Lili, Ivan, Katrina, Rita, Gustav and Ike. The difference between those two numbers is 7,053 -- roughly the amount cited by Landrieu.

So, Landrieu is correct that except for the hurricane numbers, about 7,000 barrels of oil were spilled in the Gulf in the past decade.

Federal authorities have said it's difficult to estimate the amount of oil flowing into the Gulf. Initially, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said that about 1,000 barrels of oil were leaking each day into the Gulf as a result of the accident. But NOAA then increased that estimate to about 5,000 barrels a day (which is about 210,000 gallons). But scientists say it could be far more than 5,000.

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So Landrieu is close with the 7,000 figure, but there's considerable uncertainty about the actual amount spewing from the leak. We find her claim Mostly True.

Our Sources

Congressional Quarterly transcripts, Sen. Mary Landrieu interviewed on CNN, May 4, 2010, accessed May 7, 2010

The Minerals Management Service, Deepwater Gulf of Mexico 2009: Interim Report of 2008 Highlights, accessed May 7, 2010

The Minerals Management Service, Petroleum Spills from OCS and Gas Activities, April 16, 2010, accessed May 7, 2010

The Minerals Management Service, Spills - Statistics and Summaries 1996-2009, accessed May 7 and 11, 2010

The Wall Street Journal, Experts: Oil May Be Leaking at Rate of 25,000 Barrels a Day in Gulf, by Ian Talley, April 30, 2010

ABC News, Oil Leak in Gulf Worse Than Estimated, BP Takes Some Responsibility, By Ryan Owens, Sarah Netter, and Ned Potter, April 29, 2010

Washington Post, Calculating rate of leak of Gulf oil proves a difficult task, May 13, 2010

E-mail correspondence, Aaron Saunders, spokesman for Sen. Mary Landrieu, May 7 and 11, 2001

Phone interview, Petty Officer Matthew Schofield, spokesman for the Deepwater Horizon Response, May 11, 2010

E-mail correspondence Drew Malcomb, spokesman for the Minerals Management Service, May 12, 2010

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Landrieu says the Deepwater Horizon well is leaking 7,000 barrels of oil each day and a half

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