Updated 30 May
It’s been more than 30 days since a BP explosion killed 11 employees and opened a pipe that is spewing vast quantities of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico. On Thursday, BP acknowledged that the “leak” is greater than the official government estimate of 5,000 barrels (210,000 U.S. gallons) per day.
Depending on which estimate you’re using, over a 30-day period this ecological disaster has resulted in between 150,000 (NASA) and 3,000,000 barrels (feds worst-case scenario) of oil gushing unchecked in the Gulf. For context, the Exxon Valdex spill was approximately 250,000 barrels (10.5 million U.S. gallons). The U.S. consumes about 21 million barrels of oil a day.
What follows is a recap of the estimates, followed by two infographics; one visualizes the daily estimates, the other visualizes the 30-day total in the context of the Exxon Valdez spill. (Note: the BP situation is not a spill; spills are one-time events. It doesn’t seem quite right to call it a leak, either, since the connotation of “leak” is something with a small volume.)
The explosion occurred on 20 April 2010. Dates listed are publication dates.
- 23 April : Official word, no leak (Coast Guard)
- 24 April : Leak is 1,000 barrels a day (BP and Coast Guard)
- 29 April : Leak is 5,000 barrels a day (NOAA)
- 5 May : Worst-case is 100,000 barrels a day (Feds)
- 13 May : Leak is 20-25,000 barrels a day (Ian R. MacDonald, FSU)
- 14 May : Leak is 70,000 barrels a day (Steve Wereley, Purdue)
- 21 May : BP concedes more than 5,000 barrels a day
- 22 May : Leak is 40-100,000 barrels a day
- 27 May : Latest data from USGS : 12-19K barrels/day
Other relevant dates:
- 11 May : In Congressional testimony, BP blames TransOcean; TransOcean blames Halliburton; Halliburton blames TransOcean and BP.
- 15 May : BP says it is not trying to determine the flow rate: “It’s not relevant to the response effort, and it might even detract from the response effort.”
Images: Barrel and Oil Tanker from iStockPhoto; background image, NASA.