BP Gulf Oil Spill Officially the Worst in US History

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Photo via the LA Times

By BP and the US Coast Guard's own conservative estimates, the spill in the Gulf of Mexico is now officially the worst in US history. Those estimates place the leak as having let 19 million gallons of oil into the Gulf, 8 million more than the Exxon Valdez spill of 1989. But another federal agency, the US Geological Survey, just conducted an independent study, and found that it's much, much worse than that.The USGS teams have found the source has been spewing not 200,000 gallons a day, but between 500,000 and 1 million gallons a day. That means the total could top 39 million gallons -- as it stands today. Now, thankfully, tentative reports are coming in that the so-called 'top kill' method to clog the well and seal with cement have been successful.

But it's very much worth keeping in mind that even if that turns out to be the case, and the leak stops today, this is still a disaster of unprecedented proportions for the United States. Here's the AP, via Salon:

The Gulf oil spill has surpassed the Exxon Valdez as the worst in U.S. history, according to new estimates released Thursday, but the Coast Guard and BP said an untested procedure to stop it seemed to be working. A team of scientists trying to figure out how much oil has been flowing since the offshore rig Deepwater Horizon exploded April 20 and sank two days later found the rate was at least twice and possibly up to five times as high as previously thought.
Even using the most conservative estimate, that means the leak has grown to nearly 19 million gallons, surpassing the size of the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster, which at about 11 million gallons had been the nation's worst spill. Under the highest estimate, nearly 39 million gallons may have spilled.

Photo via Boston

39 million gallons of toxic crude oil. Really, that's an incomprehensibly vast amount -- can you honestly visualize what 39 million gallons of oil looks like?

So as we breath out the tentative, collective sighs of relief, keep that in mind. The damage has been done -- and thanks to the experimental chemical dispersants, we will spend years trying to figure out exactly what that damage is, as well as its true extent -- and there is still mighty cleanup effort required for the crude as well. So I'm glad that the leak might finally be stopped -- but assessing and cleaning up the worst oil disaster in US history is another matter altogether.