Putting the Deepwater Horizon oil spill into perspective


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By Cris Trautner

* On June 10, the science team in charge of flow-rate analysis updated the estimate of the oil flow range to between 20,000 and 40,000 barrels per day, from their original estimate of 12,000 to 25,000.

* On June 15, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that the Flow Rate Technical Group, after reviewing information from new pressure gauges and high-resolution video “reluctantly released by BP,” stated that as many as 60,000 barrels, or 2.5 million gallons, per day could be flowing into the Gulf of Mexico, an amount equal to the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill gushing from the well about every four days. Later that day, the estimate jumped to 35,000 to 60,000 barrels, according to CNN.

* On June 14, Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen reported that the current containment cap on the outflow pipe was collecting less than half of the likely estimated oil flow, about 466,200 gallons per day, or about 11,100 barrels; however, BP and others, including the SF Chronicle, report that BP is able to collect 15,800 barrels a day.

* MSNBC on June 7 reported that the oil slick had stained beaches and marshes in spots along more than 100 miles of coast from Louisiana to the Florida Panhandle, and a sheen on the surface was spotted about 150 miles west of Tampa, Fla.

* Examiner.com reported on June 12 that the oil slick now covers approximately 3,000 square miles of the Gulf of Mexico’s surface.

* The Gulf Coast is one of Ducks Unlimited’s five highest-priority conservation areas in North America and supports more than 13 million ducks and geese in some years over the winter.

* The Christian Science Monitor reported on June 2 that species ranging from sperm whales to Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles and from pelicans to already depleted bluefin tuna could be impacted by the spill. According to the National Wildlife Federation, other key species affected by the spill include reddish egret, royal tern and snowy plover.

* The National Wildlife Federation reported on May 22 that six to nine times more sea turtles are being found dead than the average rate, and the 29 stranded dolphins found since April 22 represent two to six times the normal rate.

* National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration administrator Jane Lubchenco stated that “no oil” had been found inside the dead dolphins, though the New York Daily News on June 2 reported on a stranded dolphin “filled with oil” found by a BP contract worker.

* The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reported on May 28 that 444 birds and 222 sea turtles had been found dead in the area.

* According to Examiner.com on June 12, rescue teams had brought in about 1,000 birds from oil-covered Gulf waters; however, experts say that number represents only about 10 percent of the number of birds believed to have been killed in the oil slick.

* According to BP’s estimates, their costs as of June 14, including the cost of the spill response, containment, relief well drilling, grants to the Gulf states, claims paid and federal costs, were approximately $1.6 billion.

* Adam Sharp, writing for “Energy & Capital,” estimated that the disaster might result in a one-time charge of $6 billion or more, “chump-change to a company with an average daily profit of $43 million (in 2009).”

* Dan Shapley on Thedailygreen.com reported that BP’s last statement for the first quarter of 2010—before the spill began—showed profits of $6.1 billion. “In the last four years (including the first quarter of 2010), BP has made a total of $82 billion, according to Google Finance—putting the cost of the cleanup so far at just 1.2 percent of profits. If you assume BP would have made about as much as it has averaged over the past four years, the cost of the Gulf oil spill [conservatively estimated at $1 billion] so far amounts to just under 5 percent of BP annual profits.”

* Admiral Allen noted on June 14 that “Dealing with the oil spill on the surface will take a couple of months” but the getting the oil out of marshlands and other habitats “will be years.”

The long-term effects of the Deep Horizon oil spill are undetermined, of course, but the Exxon Valdez tanker spill, considered one of the U.S.’s worst ecological and economic disasters, can provide some understanding of what the Gulf region will experience in years to come. The tanker ran aground on Bligh Reef in Prince William Sound shortly after leaving the port of Valdez, Alaska, in the early hours of March 24, 1989. Over 10 million gallons of crude oil spilled from its tanks into one of the most environmentally sensitive regions of the U.S. Consider that the Gulf region has already experienced well over that amount of crude being spilled into its waters and will likely experience more. According to the National Wildlife Federation:

* Still not completely recovered after more than 20 years: Barrow’s goldeneyes, black oystercatchers, harlequin ducks, killer whales, sea otters, clams, mussels, sediments and intertidal communities.

* Still not recovering after more than 20 years: Pacific herring and pigeon guillemots.

* Still impaired after more than 20 years: commercial fishing, recreation, tourism and general human subsistence.


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