Gulf of Mexico oil spill: How bad is it?
The oil spill that resulted from the explosion and sinking of an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico last week is becoming more worrying as it continues to spread and efforts at stemming the flow of the leaking oil are being met with difficulties.
The oil spill that resulted from the explosion and sinking of an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico last week is becoming more worrying as it continues to spread and efforts at stemming the flow of the leaking oil are being met with difficulties.Skip to next paragraph
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Here is what you need to know about the situation so far and how it might develop in the future.
How big is the oil slick and how fast is it growing?
The oil slick has grown in size since the initial accident as the oil spreads across the surface of the ocean. The lighter the oil is, the faster it can spread — so gasoline would spread faster than thicker, black oils, such as the crude oil from the Deepwater Horizon. But even heavy oil can spread quickly in a major spill, spreading out as thin as a layer of paint on a wall in just a few hours, according to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
Officials combating the spill estimate that the oil slick has a circumference of about 600 miles (about 970 kilometers), though the shape of the spill is irregular. The slick is big enough to be seen from space.
So far the oil slick has not spread out enough to reach the coastline, though officials are concerned about that possibility. The most recent NOAA report on the spill says that the edge of the area with visible oil is now 21 miles (34 km) from the nearest point of land, which is the SW Pass at the tip of the Mississippi River Delta.
Winds over the next few days will tend to push the oil towards the shore, though officials don't expect it to reach land in the next 72 hours.
How does this spill compare to the Exxon Valdez disaster?
When BP's oil rig off the coast of Louisiana exploded on April 22, a ruptured pipe began emptying 136.4 tons of oil a day into the Gulf of Mexico. At that rate, the spill will have unleashed 818 tons of crude oil into the sea by the end of Wednesday, April 28. And while that that may sound like a lot, that leaves this spill only 1/50th the size of the Exxon Valdez spill. Assuming a sustained rate of leakage, it will take another 250 days for the spill to reach the size of the 1989 Alaskan catastrophe.
How is the oil leaking out?
The initial oil slick came from the oil that was already aboard the rig that sank. Officials are not certain how much of the estimated 700,000 gallons (approximately 16,700 barrels) on the rig burned up in the fire that raged before the rig sank.