Latest Posts

BP's blown-out Macondo well spewed approximately 5 million barrels, or 210 million gallons into the Gulf of Mexico.

According to scientists in the Flow Rate Technical Group, supervised by the U.S. Geological Survey and the U.S. Department of Energy, BP's Macondo well spewed 62,000 barrels of oil a day initially, and the flow eased to 53,000 barrels a day until the well was finally capped and sealed July 15.

BP injected approximately 1.8 million gallons of dispersant into the Gulf.

The new figures indicate that the roughly 800,000 barrels of oil that BP managed to capture with its various containment strategies -- a riser insertion tool, a "top hat," and flaring from a surface rig -- represented only about one-sixth of the crude that surged into the gulf over the course of nearly three months. In all, about 1.2 million barrels of oil have been accounted for, either burned, captured or skimmed off the ocean's surface. That's about a quarter of the new estimate for the total spill. Where the other three-quarters has gone is unclear. Some has evaporated; some has been consumed by microbes; but scientists remain troubled by the possibility that large amounts of oil remain underwater in cloudlike plumes.

For government lawyers preparing a case against BP, this number could help calculate the maximum civil penalty BP might face for the spill. If BP is not found to have acted with negligence, the penalty would be $1,100 per barrel. About 4.1 million barrels escaped into the gulf, according to the new estimate, so that fine would come to $4.5 billion. If BP is found to have acted with "gross negligence" in the lead-up to the spill, the maximum penalty would be $4,300 a barrel, which would work out to $17.6 billion.

In all, the 4.1 million barrels estimated to have polluted the gulf would be enough to fill the Pentagon to a depth of 18 feet or to fill 260 Olympic swimming pools. The entire Gulf of Mexico, by comparison, would fill 880 million Pentagons, or 973 billion Olympic pools.

This spill is significantly larger than the Ixtoc I blowout of 1979, which polluted the southern Gulf of Mexico with 138 million gallons over the course of 10 months. That had been the largest oil spill in history, surpassed only by the intentional spills in 1991 during the Persian Gulf War.
(Wash Post, 8/3/2010)