20100716 bp image aviris 18
A photo image of the BP oil spill using AVIRIS technology from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. - 


Bill Radke: BP has finally capped the Gulf oil leak. If the cap holds, attention will shift to the clean-up and one of the first tasks is to figure out how much oil has spilled into the water. Reporter Adriene Hill says the number that scientists settle on has big implications for BP.

Adriene Hill: The bigger the spill, the bigger the fines for BP.

Cathy Milostan: It could be quite large.

Cathy Milostan is an analyst with Morningstar. BP could be fined $1,100 to $4,300 per barrel of oil spilled. That can add up fast-depending on how long the spill lasts.

Milostan: Anywhere from $4 billion to $45 billion.

You'd think BP might have every reason to lowball the numbers. But University of Michigan professor David Uhlmann says it's better for the company to play nice.

David Uhlmann: We should be clear that the maximum penalty is not the same as what the actual penalty will be.

Uhlmann says when the government sets the fine, it'll consider just how cooperative BP has been.

For Marketplace, I'm Adriene Hill.

Follow Adriene Hill at @adrienehill