Photo via Discover
Initially described as 'comparably tiny' by the man ultimately responsible for it, two months later the spill will become the largest in the history of the Gulf. It will pass up the Ixtoc-I spill of 1979, which was the previous record-holder. Congratulations, BP -- you've broken the record for the biggest spill in the history of the Gulf, as well as the biggest in US history, no easy feat. Yes, tomorrow, by the high-end federal estimates of the rate by which oil is spewing from the Deepwater Horizon source, 140 million gallons will have entered the Gulf of Mexico. It could be even more than that, as many scientists say BP and the feds continue to lowball the flow rate estimates. But regardless, that number makes it enough to eclipse the Ixtoc spill, and places it well on its way towards being the biggest in history.
The current benchmark for record-setting oil spills is the 1991 Persian Gulf incident where Iraqi forces intentionally dumped a total of 460 million gallons out of its reserves. The BP Gulf spill is a third of the way there, and still spilling.
This number is important for reasons beyond ooh and ah media narratives as well -- the gallons of oil that BP is responsible for spilling will determine the amount it will be fine, and provides crucial information for restoration efforts. The AP reports:
The growing total is crucial to track, in part because Great Britain-based BP PLC is likely to be fined per gallon spilled, said Larry McKinney, director of Texas A&M; University at Corpus Christi's Gulf of Mexico research institute.Indeed it does. As one scientist in the AP story notes, "It's a mind-boggling number any way you cut it. It'll be well beyond Ixtoc by the time it's finished."
"It's an important number to know because it has an impact on restoration and recovery," McKinney said ... Measuring it helps scientists figure out where the missing oil is, hidden below the water surface with some even stuck to the seafloor. Oil not at the surface damages different parts of the ecosystem.