Top Story: May 17, 2010

Gulf Oil Spill: Size Matters

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Recent news reports indicate that the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is worse than originally estimated. Once thought to be about 5,000 gallons per day, the spill may in fact be many times larger. One plume of the spill was described as being 10 miles long, 3 miles wide and 300 feet thick.

From 80beats, a great blog from Discover:

Now, according to an independent analysis done by Purdue’s Steve Werely with video footage of the leak, that worst-case figure by BP is close to what’s actually happening, and the true total might be even higher. Werely estimates the leak at 70,000 barrels per day, and with a 20% uncertainty in the numbers, that gives a range of 56,000 to 84,000.

(If you haven’t seen the video of the stream of the oil leak, be sure to click here, it’s quite dramatic.)

Why do we need to understand the size of the spill? According to the New York Times:

Scientists said that the size of the spill was directly related to the amount of damage it would do in the ocean and onshore, and that calculating it accurately was important for that reason.

Yikes! What this means for the life in the Gulf and those that rely on it for their livelihood is still unknown. Most observers estimate that this will be the worst oil disaster in US history.

And how can we prevent this from happening again? Academy researcher Rich Mooi offers a perspective from California history:

The 1969 blowout on a rig off Santa Barbara resulted in the release of somewhere between 100,000 and 200,000 barrels of crude into the sea, much of it landing on the beaches and messing up the kelp forests of Santa Barbara County.  Thousands of marine birds and mammals died in the mess. Many credit the stories and images of this disaster with the start of the fall from grace of the oil industry as “good guys” in the fabric of North American industry, sparking an environmental movement featuring the organization called “Get Oil Out” (GOO), and culminating in the cessation of new leases for offshore drilling in California.

With Governor Schwarzenegger’s recent decision to halt new offshore drilling in California and several western senators proposing a bill to stop it along the entire Pacific coast, perhaps this tragic spill will have a similar effect.

Let’s hope we learn from our mistakes this time.

Image by NASA Goddard

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