New Data Suggests Gulf Oil Spill at Second or Third Biggest Ever

A breaking story at the Washington Post, based on a new analysis of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, puts the total at 4.9 million barrels:

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 on 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.

Note there is some dispute, given measurement difficulties, of the size of past oil leaks. The Post continues:

The new numbers, released by the government Monday night, once again nudge upward the 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 coursre of 10 months. That had been the record for the largest unintentional oil spill in the planet’s history, surpassed only by the intentional spills of the Persian Gulf War.

By contrast, Wikipedia shows only spill that is clearly worse as the Lakeview Gusher, in 1910 and 1911, which spewed an estimated 9 million barrels. Wikipedia’s sources come up with a wide range of estimates for the Gulf War leaks, of 2 million to 6 million barrels

This leak is well over the total for Ixtoc, heretofore the worst Gulf disaster, whose high estimate was roughly 3.5 million barrels. Exxon Valdez was a mere 260,000 to 750,000 barrels.

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  1. BC

    Some of the alarmist reporting around was very much hurtful to the gulf. It’s like the media just wanted to scare people out of ever visiting Florida’s beeches or eating Louisiana seafood again before they decide to pretend like it never happened. Did you know oil washed up in St. Mary’s parish an their was nobody anywhere close to clean it up? Damn tobacco scientists working for BP sure as heck didn’t. Oddly enough, my lasting memory from this won’t be pelicans or blind bay or the barataria. It will be Jindal betraying us with his stupid berms. Risking the chandaleurs for political gain.

  2. M4570D0N

    sooooo what you’re saying is, the flow rate was at/near the high end of the spectrum of the previous estimate but still not anywhere close to the outlandish nonsense coming from Matt Simmons’ and your bff George Washington? I loved your book, and I love reading your commentary on finance/economics, but you are no better than GW or any of the other tin foil hat kooks when you just copy/paste their BS without questioning any of it. The Oil Drum did a wonderful job of demonstrating what a rational/logical commentary on Matt Simmons’ theories looks like, and in the process destroyed every single on of those retarded theories.

    Why didnt you post anything on this or any of the other numerous articles that have questioned these doomsday scenarios?

    Or how about the fact that phase II of dispersant testing by the EPA which was released today shows that oil-dispersant mix is no more toxic than the oil already leaking into the gulf and therefore is NOT increasing toxicity in the gulf? Nothing on that?

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      George Washington has his own login and his posts are clearly published by him. You should take up your objections to his posts with him, not me. All the estimates I published were from scientists, and the stories indicated considerable uncertainty in the estimates.

      I see you also choose to ignore the posts provided by Glenn Stehle, who is an industry expert and provided commentary that readers found helpful.

      As for the dispersant, I’m not impressed by the EPA study and see no reason to post it here. It is of acute toxicity, and established nothing re the longer term effects of the dispersant. There are plenty of substances (crystal meth, cigarette smoke, arsenic, to name a few) which would not show up as dangerous at certain dosages on an acute basis but where repeated exposure has deleterious side effects. Moreover, to the extent Corexit has entered the food chain in some areas, critters higher up in the food chain will get higher level exposures than found in a short-term test (this was only 48-96 hours). Moreover, the sample was way too small (30 animals per treatment level). If this were a drug study, it would be laughed out of court.

      1. BC

        I think Corexit and the toxicity in the air should have gotten more attention from MSM. I’ve seen numerous reports of it causing skin rashes, shortness of breathe, headaches…

        @Foghorn Leghern, I really do think that’s why Anderson Cooper was so far away. I dont believe it was that bad everywhere, but why did he avoud actually shooting from the coast? I don’t know who Dahr Jamail is, but he went to Lafitte to visit the Louisiana Bayoukeeper, who I have read and found trustworthy, and the story is just frightening:

        But they test the fish right? They say it’s safe. But so many people report that they’re living with asthma now. Why couldn’t the media go down to Lafitte and get that story.

        @Yves, I don’t think you were part of the alarmist journalism at all. You’re the only blogger i saw ask if anyone had a personal first hand experience with the spill and bothered to link to stories covering the human side of this. What bothers be is those who almost seemed like they wanted to find some crazy new aspect of the story and ignored how it affected actual human beings. GW fell into this trap every now an then, but he did it fairly responsibly.

  3. deeringothamnust

    BP will not provide adequate compensation unless and until the injured parties have the back bone to defend themselves. For justice to begin, British Petroleum’s executives must be extradited, and brought before a court of justice in the USA.. An act of unspeakable ,profane violence has been done. Unless and until we the people demand and enforce justice for these and other financially motivated crimes., we will be visited with new horrors. We are repeatedly victimized by an self serving, self anointed, intellectually and spiritually barren, inbred , meritless aristocracy, who care for naught besides money. If a people are beat down enough, they will rise up and murder the ruling and priestly classes.. Witness the French ,Russian, and Chinese revolutions. Lest we follow that road, we had best take the example of Gandhi, who led India’s peaceful revolution against the British despotate.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      With all due respect, did you read the HuffPo piece and this post? They both say 4.9 million barrels. There is no dispute.

      As to where it ranks, the BP spill is the biggest MODERN ACCIDENTAL spill. The HuffPo piece omits the 1910-1911 accident I mentioned, and appears also to omit the deliberate Gulf War leaks, which is generally believed to have been larger.

      1. Nightflight

        Thank you Yves, you are ever so kind in your correction. My mistake.

        Have a wonderful day, and again, thank you for your wonderful posts.

  4. Foghorn Leghorn

    At BC,

    I guess that is why Thad Allen (BP’s next board member) banned Anderson Cooper and the rest of the media from getting too close, he was obviously concerned that they were scaring people away from the Gulf, and it’s perfectly safe seafood.

    I live on the Gulf. I’m witnessing first hand, daily, the bullshit BP is shoveling. Their claims process is a complete hoax, supported by a giant media machine, of which they have likely spent more money on, than settling claims. I live amongst neighbors daily, that did not hire counsel, because they were assured BP would settle fast, and efficiently, their claims. Their next counsel will be versed in bankruptcy law, not torts.

    At M4570Don,

    I’m sure you have complete trust in everything the government tells you. You seem like a real boy scout to me, however, I have first hand information that the 64 respiratory failures in my little town (in the past 90 days) all had a single connection, they went swimming in, or worked in Gulf Waters. Now, we didn’t see 64 respiratory failures in the whole of 2008, let alone in 90 days. So I don’t give a shit if Ronald Reagan shows up tomorrow and drinks a gallon of salt water from a pewter chalice – my kids aren’t going in the water, and neither am I. We also will be eating beef, chicken and pork for the foreseeable future. So come on down, get a room a few floors up (the vacancy signs are lit everywhere) so that you have a good view of the boys in the white overalls, rubber boots and hard hats, riding golf carts up and down the beach, sucking up sludge – and enjoy a “cheeseburger in paradise” cause the shrimp loaf with kill ya!

    At Deerintheheadlights,

    We aren’t much for Ghandi here. Hippies and the peace movement never really made a splash down here. I’m kinda feelin the whole French, Russian, Chinese thing right now. And perhaps it could start with BC and the boy with the license plate for a name.

    1. BC

      That’s what I’m worried about. There is no real info out there except for reports like that, and they get ignored. What the hell is the EPA doing? If they’d just be up front, it would do a world of good. It baffles me. One second i see that fishing is reopened an think about heading down to fourchon or grand isle for a crabbing trip, the next you hear about people who live with all those horrible symptoms. If the media just would’ve tried to get this story, at least we’d be well informed. Hope all goes well for you.

  5. the Barnyard Dawg

    @foghorn leghorn

    Well I do declare, you shore enuf told them boys the what’s what!

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