Scientists announced today that the ongoing BP oil spill is now the largest in U.S. history, eclipsing the Exxon Valdez wreck of 1989. A new report by government scientists estimates a daily leakage rate much higher than BP’s estimates, measuring the total amount of crude oil released up to four times higher than the Exxon Valdez spill. The new estimates have also intensified questions and criticisms surrounding the April 20 explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig that started the 5-week-and-counting leak.
At its most conservative, the new leak rate puts at least 504,000 gallons of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico daily and over 18 million gallons overall. That is much higher than the 210,000 gallons-per-day rate estimated by BP a few days after the explosion. At the high end, scientists estimate more than 1 million gallons of oil are spewing into the Gulf every day, even as BP attempts to block the leak by inserting mud into the well’s blowout preventer, a process known as a “Top Kill.” At time of writing, the process seems to be going well but it is far too early to paint as successful.
So far, some 18 to 39 million gallons of oil have been spilled, according to the new estimates. The Exxon Valdez disaster, one-time record holder for largest oil spill in U.S. history, lost almost 11 million gallons when the tanker wrecked off the coast of Alaska more than 20 years ago.
In response to heated debate and criticism, including the resignation of the director of the agency charged with overseeing offshore drilling projects, President Obama announced a six-month extension of the moratorium on new offshore drilling permits. He also suspended exploration drilling off the coast of Alaska, as well as 33 new wells in the Gulf of Mexico, according to the Chicago Tribune.
Meanwhile, the economy is suffering billions of dollars in losses due to the shutdown of fishing operations and other businesses in the Gulf Coast region.
BP has said that it would know better by the end of Thursday whether their Top Kill attempt at stopping the leak would prove successful or not. If not, the company has said repeatedly, they have plenty of backup options available to stop the 5-week long oil leak.