Oil spill dumped 4.9 million barrels into Gulf of Mexico, latest measure shows

By Joel Achenbach and David A. Fahrenthold
Washington Post Staff Writer

 The blown-out well in the Gulf of Mexico gushed 12 times faster than the government and BP estimated in the early weeks of the crisis and has spilled a whopping 4.9 million barrels, or 205.8 million gallons, according to a more detailed analysis announced recently.

 BP’s Macondo well spewed 62,000 barrels of oil a day initially, and as the reservoir gradually depleted itself, the flow eased to 53,000 barrels a day until the well was finally capped and sealed July 15, according to scientists in the Flow Rate Technical Group, supervised by the U.S. Geological Survey and the U.S. Department of Energy.

 The new numbers once again have nudged upward the statistical scale of the disaster. If correct — the government allows for a margin of error of 10 percent — the flow rate would make this spill significantly larger than the Ixtoc I blowout of 1979, which polluted the southern Gulf of Mexico with 138 million gallons over the course of 10 months. That had been the largest unintentional oil spill in history, surpassed only by the intentional spills in 1991 during the Persian Gulf War.

 The new flow rate figures came as engineers made final preparations for a “static kill” operation that might plug the well permanently even before a relief well intercepts Macondo at its base. BP announced that the procedure would be delayed because of a leak in the hydraulic control system on the well’s new cap.

 ….In all, about 1.2 million barrels of oil have been accounted for, either burned, captured or skimmed off the ocean’s surface. That’s about a quarter of the new estimate for the total spill.

 Where the other three-quarters has gone is unclear. Some has evaporated; some has been consumed by microbes; but scientists remain troubled by the possibility that large amounts of oil remain underwater in cloudlike plumes.

 “This further confirms that a lot of the oil is still at sea. And we just don’t know the implications of it,” said Ron Kendall, director of the Institute of Environmental and Human Health at Texas Tech University. Kendall will testify before Congress on Wednesday about his fears that dispersant chemicals have helped much of this oil sink into deep-sea habitats.

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Our Take:
BP and the Coast Guard didn’t get it all. And even counting what’s washed up on shore, there’s still a lot of oil unaccounted for. Some experts believe, there may be vast plumes of oil, floating like clouds in the depths of the gulf, and settling in deep sea marine habitats. The spring into summer timing of the spill ensures that the disaster has had the highest impact possible on the reproductive cycle of all the crustaceans, fish, birds and marine mammals that call the Gulf home.

It is reported that Gulf fisherman wouldn’t feed fish caught now to their own families and don’t believe they should sell it to the general public.

 All we have to say is that a comprehensive federal energy policy that support of biofuels development, electric vehicles and alternative generation of stationary power would replace every drop of oil that ever would have come from the Macondo well and any other proposed or currently operating offshore oil well.

 Now, instead of a fully developed alternative energy industry, we have had enough oil to fill 210 olympic swimming pools dumped into a sensitive ecological environment, perhaps changing it forever, but certainly disrupting it for generations. Simply put, farm-based renewable energy would never have that kind of environmental cost. Ethanol and biodiesel produced from farm commodities are part of a larger picture of environmentally-responsible energy production.


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