The Worst Oil Spill Ever?

"The equivalent of one Exxon Valdez tanker every four days"

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Two alarming reports from National Public Radio and The New York Times this morning suggest that the amount of oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico is far greater than the official government estimate. For weeks, officials pegged the leak at around 5,000 barrels a day. But recent calculations by scientists estimate at least 10 times that amount. Steven Wereley, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at Purdue University, estimated that 70,000 barrels of oil a day are pouring into the ocean. (NPR says this method is accurate to "a degree of plus or minus 20 percent.") With a solution to the spill far from certain, many worry this could be the worst spill to date.

  • 'We Don't Have Any Idea How to Stop This,' says energy industry expert Matthew Simmons speaking to National Geographic: "Such recovery operations have never been done before in the extreme deep-sea environment around the wellhead... For instance, at the depth of the gushing wellhead—5,000 feet—containment technologies have to withstand pressures of up to 40,000 pounds per square inch... Also, slant drilling—a technique used to relieve pressure near the leak—is difficult at these depths, because the relief well has to tap into the original pipe, a tiny target at about 7 inches wide."
  • Get Ready for the Worst Environmental Disaster Ever, warns Steve Benen at the Washington Monthly: "Some fears that it will simply be impossible to shut down the gusher of oil, and that the spill will get worse until it's tapped dry. BP's chief executive has estimated 'that the reservoir tapped by the out-of-control well holds at least 50 million barrels of oil.' That's about 2 billion gallons -- making this disaster easily the worst ever."
  • Here's Where We Stand, writes Kevin Drum at Mother Jones: "Even if the well is capped, this is going to be a huge spill. The spill rate, originally estimated at 50,000 gallons a day and then 210,000 gallons a day, might actually be as much as million gallons a day — or maybe even more. But it's hard to tell because BP is using chemical dispersants to send most of the oil to the bottom of the sea. This keeps it off the shore, but might end up doing more damage in the long run. Nobody seems to know for sure."
  • Some Media Organizations Are Doing a Good Job—Others Not So Much, observes Brad Johnson at Think Progress: "Despite this uncertainty, the... Washington Post, CNN, and other media organizations credulously report that the BP disaster has spilled less than five million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico so far, instead of 25 million gallons. The Wall Street Journal and Associated Press have challenged the official undercount, and PBS Newshour has published a running counter which allows users to adjust the estimated leak rate."
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