The BP oil spill on May 9th, as seen from the NASA Earth Observatory.
With the news today that the sunken Deepwater Horizon might very well be exceeding BP's worst case estimate, gushing 70,000 barrels per day (2.94 million gallons) into the Gulf of Mexico--passing the Exxon Valdez about two weeks ago--I wondered how much longer until it made it into the top 10 worst oil spills in history. The bad news is that it already is. There really isn't good news in this one.
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As you can see in the image above (better if you view larger...), and again assuming that the 70,000 bpd estimate is correct and has been constant, the BP oil spill is already the 8th-worst oil spill to have ever occurred. It surpassed huge spills in Nova Scotia, Italy and Angola in the past week. It will spew more oil than giant spills in France, South Africa and the Persian Gulf by May 20th, if the flow rate isn't stopped.
For more info on these, Envirowonk already has a good overview. No need to duplicate that here, but check it out for the details.
But carrying on: Unless slowed or stopped, on May 27th the Deepwater Horizon will have assured its place in history as the second worst oil spill of all time, and the worst in the Gulf of Mexico.
The only remaining spill larger will be the one purposefully created in 1991 by Saddam Hussein to try slowing the advance of US troops as they invaded Iraq. That spill was 520 million barrels. Should BP not be able to cap this gusher, and flow does not diminish on its own due to natural circumstances (something which has been proposed by some analysts, but is frankly of little comfort), 156 days from now on October 17th the Deepwater Horizon will be officially the worst oil spill humans have even created.
More on the BP Oil Spill:
First Underwater Images of the Gulf Oil Leak (What BP Won't Show You)
What are BP's Options to Stop the Oil Leaks? What are the Chances of Success?
US Army to Turn Gulf Spill Oil Into Asphalt With Experimental Chemical (Video)