BP Oil Collection – Is the Effort Really Improving?

A colleague sent me a link to Rachel Maddow’s website today where she features a graph that was used by BP senior vice president Kent Wells to show how the company’s efforts to collect the oil that’s spewing into the ocean at a rate of several thousands of barrels per day is improving. He talks about adjustments that they’ve made to the siphon, then says “Here you can see how we’ve continued to ramp up.” But is this really what’s happening?

Although the graph doesn’t outright lie, BP is relying on the viewer’s assumption that a series of bars that increases in height represents an increase in performance. In this case it does not, however, because the bars display the cumulative amount of oil collected per day, not the daily amount. In my graph below, which shows daily oil collection, the story is obviously quite different.

While the amount of collection increased in the beginning, it has decreased or held steady for the last four days and is now well below the average amount of daily collection for this period as a whole. Things are definitely not getting better. How do you spin bad news like this? One way is to create a misleading graph, but cover your ass by doing it in a way that isn’t an outright lie.

Take care,

4 Comments on “BP Oil Collection – Is the Effort Really Improving?”

By Worm. May 27th, 2010 at 1:18 am

To be fair, the average daily collection is not necessarily a good measure of performance either is it? For instance, is it possible that once the majority of the oil has been collected, it becomes much harder to collect large amounts as there is less around?

That said, it also depends how quickly more oil is being leaked. What you could really do with is some kind of chart that shows the relationship between the amount of oil collected, the amount remaining, and the additional amount that leaked for each day.

I know, life is full of disappointments :)

By Kyle Biehle. May 27th, 2010 at 10:41 am

I took Stephen’s Numbers plus the current estimate of 15K Barrels leaking per day, and came up with this view:


Tells slightly different story than BP would like to tell.

By Julien. May 28th, 2010 at 6:30 am

What should BP’s goal be? Pump all oil that was spilled !

My take on this is that it doesn’t matter how much they pump daily or how much they have pumped so far, what’s important is how much still has to be pumped !

I would like to see:
– how much oil was spilled over time
– how much was collected over time
– projections of when it’s going to be clean …

Now, do we have the data for this? That’s another question …

By Martin Eising. September 1st, 2010 at 1:32 pm

I agree with Julien’s comment.

Data visualization is like many other fields: graphs, charts and dashboards may look fantastic, but they are only useful when they represent well-mined data!