UPDATE 6/16/10: Wrong again. The NYT says that it’s much higher than was believe just last week:

A government panel on Tuesday released yet another estimate of the amount of oil flowing from BP’s damaged well, declaring that as much as 60,000 barrels a day could be spewing into the Gulf of Mexico.

That is roughly 2.5 million gallons of oil a day, and it means an amount equal to the Exxon Valdez spill could be gushing from the well about every four days.

Scientists on Tuesday estimated that the flow rate ranged from 35,000 to 60,000 barrels a day—up from the rate they issued only last week, of 25,000 to 30,000 barrels a day.

With BP capturing roughly 15,000 barrels a day, the new estimate suggests that as much as 45,000 barrels a day is escaping into the gulf.


UPDATE 6/11/10: The AP is reporting that perhaps twice as much oil is gushing as thought just a couple of weeks ago:

New figures for the blown-out well at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico show the amount of oil spewing may have been up to twice as much as previously thought, according to scientists consulting with the federal government…

That could mean 42 million gallons to more than 100 million gallons of oil have already fouled the Gulf’s fragile waters…

The spill was flowing at a daily rate that could possibly have been as high as 2.1 million gallons, twice the highest number the federal government had been saying…

So my comparisons, below, may be only about one-quarter of the true magnitude of the disaster.


UPDATE 5/27/10:The NYT reports that the news is much worse:

A federal team created to produce a more precise estimate of the oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico has determined that the rate is at least twice what was previously acknowledged and possibly five times as much, officials said on Thursday. [Emphasis mine]

It looks like the reality is going to make my analogies (below) look laughably conservative.


UPDATE 5/20/10: The original version of this post was based on a no-outdated estimate of the oil spill’s extent. It’s currently believed to be three times as big. The figures are updated accordingly.


A reader asks “How big is the Gulf oil spill in local terms?”  Which is the perfect excuse for me to bust out my math skilz. 

The Gulf oil spill—which is currently believed to cover at least 7,500 square miles of ocean — is:

And here’s a frightening visual perspective on the oil spill’s extent.

N.B. – the comparisons in this post refer to surface area, not volume. The figures also do not account for large quantities of escaped oil that are still under the surface.