BP Spill the Biggest Accidental Oil Release into Marine Waters in World History


Photo via CNN

Federal scientists have just released the most precise estimates of the BP Gulf spill yet, and as you've come to expect from the trend thus far of these revised estimates, the new picture is bleaker than ever. Nearly 5 million barrels are now thought to have been spewed the Gulf of Mexico as a result of the disaster at the Deepwater Horizon site. That brings the BP Gulf spill to an astonishing new milestone: it is now the largest accidental release of oil into marine waters in the world. Congratulations, BP.The New York Times reports that the latest estimates make the BP spill "by far" the worst of its kind in world history, easily eclipsing the previous record holder, the Ixtoc-1. That spill was estimated to have loosed 3.3 million barrels into the Gulf. At nearly 5 million barrels, that means the BP spill was at least 170 million gallons. The only marine oil spill bigger than BP's is now the Persian Gulf spill, which was intentionally caused by retreating Iraqi troops. The Lakeview Gusher, a spill caused by an out of control pressurized well in Kern County, California in 1910, is thought to be the biggest oil spill in history -- it released 9 million barrels of oil over a period of 18 months.

Also interesting are the daily flow rates: They have now been determined to be 62,000 barrels a day at the onset of the spill, but the rate decreased as time went on and the reservoir emptied. The rate was believed to have slowed to 53,000 barrels a day by the time it was capped.

Remember, BP's original public estimate for the spill was 1,000 barrels a day. Woops. They were only off by 61,000. And they had a reason to lowball those numbers -- BP is apt to be financially penalized for every barrel of oil it spilled. Which means that these figures have implications beyond the 'holy sh!t' factor (which is, admittedly, immense): the company will be fined by the final volume determined.

All of this new information is, to put it simply, incredible. It's shocking. We'll follow up with more on this news tomorrow, but for now, I'll give the final word to a professor quoted in the Times:

"We've never had a spill of this magnitude in the deep ocean," said Ian R. MacDonald, a professor of oceanography at Florida State University. "These things reverberate through the ecosystem," he said. "It is an ecological echo chamber, and I think we'll be hearing the echoes of this, ecologically, for the rest of my life."

NOTE: This post originally incorrectly stated that the BP spill was the biggest in world history, using the New York Times and the AP as sources for that statement. That information has since been revised in those sources, and this post has been updated to reflect the new, more accurate information.

Tags: Conservation | Gulf Oil Spill | Oil | Oil Spill | United States

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