The Size and Scale of the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill

Day after day, night after night, the oil from the BP Deepwater Horizon oil well boils out into the Gulf:

Image of Oil Erupting from BP well head

Click HERE to see the oil discharge live.  The speed and volume of the outflow is truly incredible.

Largely due to BP’s unwillingness to share data with outside experts, it’s very hard to determine just how much total oil has escaped or what the flow rates are for the escaping oil.

See: Uncertainty Abounds as the Gulf Leak Meter Ticks Higher

As of this writing, the most conservative estimates, offered by BP, are that at least 35,000 barrels, or 1,470,000 gallons, of oil are pouring into the Gulf of Mexico every day.

NASA- Oil Slick as of June 19

Scientists not working for BP say that the actual outflow could be much more than this— 1.9 to 2.5 to 4.2 million gallons a day.

Click this image (above) to see live readouts of oil discharge rates and total discharge estimates.

This means every hour, even by the most conservative estimates, at least 61,250 gallons of toxic oil are pouring out of the BP drill site.  It’s very hard to wrap one’s head around such a figure.  In less than an hour, you could fill up the gas tank of 4,000 mid-sized cars.  That’s 96,000 cars in a day—day after day after day.

With the earliest possibility of stopping, or at least slowing down, the discharge now projected to be in August (assuming no major hurricane strike the Gulf), there’s no doubt that this  will be the Gulf’s greatest man-made environmental disaster:

See: BP spill nears a somber record as Gulf’s biggest

Every day, the volume of escaping oil could fill the gas tanks of 96,000 mid-sized cars

Depending on the oil-flow rates, the total amount of oil released and polluting the Gulf is anywhere from 114,000,000 to 195, 000,000 gallons (and counting) of oil.  CNN has a terrific interactive multimedia page that allows you to change discharge rates in order to see the range of volumes involved:

CNN Interactive – Oil By The Numbers -Mid-range Estimate

Click HERE to see CNN’s interactive information on the spill.

A site that really “brings home” the scale of the spill is the If It Was My Home website.

They have an interactive page called “Visualizing the BP Oil Spill Disaster.”  When you go to this link (click HERE) the page determines your location and then does an overlay of your area showing you the extent of the spill in terms of geography you know.  You can also put in any location you want to compare the spill size.  Here are a few screen shots of the kind of maps you’ll see:

BP Gulf Spill’s present location

BP Gulf Spill Overlaid on San Francisco Bay Area

BP Gulf Spill Overlaid Great Lakes Area

BP Gulf Spill Overlaid New England Area

UPDATE: The New York Times has just added this very helpful interactive map, showing the oil’s surface movement through July 5, 2010:

Tracking the Oil Spill in the Gulf

New York Times Oil Spill Interactive

The Environmental Price of the BP Deepwater Horizon Catastrophe

The tragic human impact of the spill is continuing to unfold, but the the full scope of the environmental impact is almost impossible to measure.  When you look at the extent of the oil spill in images above, remember two things: (1) These overlays only show the extent of the oil spill on the surface, not the enormous underwater oil plumes, and (2) this vast area is actually the home of countless creatures, great and small.  The dead bodies that make it to shore or can be found on the surface will indicate only the smallest faction of the precious lives lost out at sea, which no one will ever see or know about.

To date, according to CNN’s interactive site, more than 1,600 dead animals have been found by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. But again, this tells us nothing about the countless numbers of animals who have died hundreds of miles out at sea, whose bodies have sunk into the depths

Kemp’s Ridley Turtle

Particularly at risk are Green Sea Turtles and the endangered Kemp’s ridley turtle.  Tragically, thousands of hatchlings of this beautiful sea turtle are swimming right into the heart of the spill area.  Because their instinct is to seek shelter and food among the floating sea vegetation, they head straight for thick clots of oil and oil-soaked seaweed.  Instead of finding security and food, they are poisoned, trapped and asphyxiated.

And if that weren’t tragic enough, it turns out that shrimp boats hired by BP to corral floating oil with booms and set it on fire have been burning hundreds if not thousands of the young turtles alive. It is enough to make you weep.

At this point, it’s tempting to show some of the horrific images of the birds and animals dying terrible deaths by the oil, but after the initial shock wears off, I think such images only tend to numb us.  However, if you need to offer evidence of the kind of devastation that’s taking place right now, day after day, then links like this can be helpful:

Caught in the Oil – The Big Picture (WARNING – this Boston Globe web page has very disturbing images of Gulf animals trapped in the oil.  Not everyone needs to look at such images of suffering; take care of your hearts.)

Being informed, however, is critical, if we are to make intelligent decisions as citizens and to be able to “speak the truth to power.”   I hope this blog adds to your store of useful knowledge and inspires you to action.

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch may contain over 100 million tons of debris and is nearly the size of the continental United States.

If any good at all comes out of this disaster, maybe it will be a heightened awareness of the fragility of our planet, of the inter-connectedness of all life, and of our need to be much, much more responsible with our use of natural resources.  We cannot put our future, or the future of our ecosystems, in the hands of  Big Oil and multinationals whose only goals are to make profit, regardless of the cost to humans and the environment.

This blog has talked about this again and again:

We’re Killing Our Oceans

Global Warming and the Loss of Earth’s Coral Reefs

The Moral Math of Climate Change

The BP Gulf Oil Disaster-Send in the Microbes!

We have to keep in mind what’s at stake when we use Earth’s natural resources.  And as a species, we have to have a profound change of consciousness (and heart!) in terms of how we related to the natural world, and each other.  If  we do not radically change, we really will destroy ourselves and much of the life on Earth.

To conclude, here are just a few of the beautiful creatures who are “at risk” because of the BP Gulf Oil Spill.  I hope these images of healthy animals inspire folks to do whatever they can, wherever they live, to preserve and protect our precious wild heritage.

Nature is not “out there.”  We are nature, and nature is us, and if we destroy nature, we destroy ourselves.

The future of the world is in our hands—what will we do?

What you can do:

One of the most disturbing aspects of this catastrophe has been the degree to which BP has kept important data and information from scientists and the press.  In the name of “safety,” journalists and photographers are often being kept from doing the investigative reporting that is essential for an informed public.  Incidents like the following are not uncommon:

From the Ground: BP Censoring Media, Destroying Evidence

The people of America need to speak up and defend our First Amendment rights of a free press.  The FAA and United States Coast Guard should not be used to serve and protect the self-interests and purposes of British Petroleum.  People speaking up can make a difference.  You can:

Write to the President of the United States

Write your Representative:

Write your Senator:


BP Nears Turning Point in Gulf Crisis (This Wall Street Journal interactive site has some of the best diagrams and scientific explanations of the disaster and how engineers are trying to fix it that I’ve found on the web.)

AP: Gulf awash in 27,000 abandoned gas, oil wells

Apocalypse in the Gulf: Could a Sinkhole Swallow the Deepwater Horizon Well — And BP?

The BP/Government Police State

BP Media Clampdown: No Photos Of Dead Animals, Please

Oil Spills Then are Oil Spills Now (video)

BP Decisions Set Stage for Disaster

Cheers, Worries Greet New Cap on Oil Well
Device Poses Threat of Leaks—and Prompts Questions About Why It Wasn’t Used Earlier


The BP Cover-Up


One Response to “The Size and Scale of the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill”
Check out what others are saying...
  1. […] The Scale and Size of the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: