The Gulf Oil Spill, by the Numbers

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Tuesday, August 03, 2010 at 9:29 am

Officials released new figures yesterday detailing just how much oil has leaked into the Gulf of Mexico from the BP oil spill — about twelve times more than initial estimates. These numbers are essential to the calculation of penalties that BP owes.

As I’ve noted here before, if BP is found by the courts to be “grossly negligent,” i.e. if they have circumvented the various laws and regulations related to drilling, the company will be charged $4,300 for every barrel that spilled into the Gulf of Mexico after the April rig explosion. If they are not found to be in violation of regulations, the company will be charged $1,100 per barrel.

Either way, according to the new numbers, we’re talking huge penalties. The Washington Post published a story last night breaking down the numbers. Here are some highlights:

  • The well released 12 times more oil than original government and BP estimates.
  • The spill released a total of 4.8 million barrels or 205.8 million gallons of oil.
  • The well released 62,000 barrels of oil a day initially; that number eventually decreased to 52,000 barrels a day.
  • BP captured about one-sixth of the oil that was released into the Gulf, or about 800,000 barrels.
  • If you count oil burning and skimming, BP was able to deal with one-fourth of the oil, or about 1.2 million barrels.
  • If BP is found to be grossly negligent, they will be charged $17.6 billion in penalties; if they are not found to be grossly negligent, they will be charged $4.5 billion.

In terms of scale, the Post gives us this nugget of context: “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.”

And here’s another way of looking at it, also from the Post: “In all, the 4.1 million barrels estimated to have polluted the gulf would be enough to fill the Pentagon to a depth of 18 feet or to fill 260 Olympic swimming pools. The entire Gulf of Mexico, by comparison, would fill 880 million Pentagons, or 973 billion Olympic pools.”

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