How Big is the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill?

Paul Rademacher made a Google Earth tool to help everyone visualize how big the Deepwater Horizon oil spill has gotten by comparing it to areas of the planet they are familiar with.

Deepwater spill map
For example, imagine an oil spill from Nevada to the High Uintas.

Deepwater spill map
This is not looking good.

Estimates of how much oil has been spilled, and the rate of spill rely on guesswork.

BP executives reportedly told the U.S. Congress on May 4 that while the oil is officially estimated to be gushing out at 5,000 barrels per day (bpd) the rate could be as high as 60,000 bpd.

In other words, the widely reported figure of 210,000 gallons per day could be 2,520,000 gallons. It’s likely that the Deepwater Horizon disaster has already exceeded the Exxon Valdez to become the largest-ever spill in U.S. waters.

There is just no way to overstate the scale of this.

UPDATE: The spill area is now 3,650 square miles, according to the latest estimate from remote sensing.

UPDATE: We now know that the White House covered up the true magnitude of the Deepwater Horizon spill for three weeks.

UPDATE: The Center for Biological Diversity has put up a handy web page to check facts about the Deepwater Horizon spill.

UPDATE: Jake Tapper of ABC News reports that the Minerals Management Service (MMS) continues to exempt offshore oil drilling permits from environmental review. In fact, since April 20, 2010, MMS has approved 27 new offshore drilling projects.

UPDATE: BP CEO Tony Hayward: the Deepwater Horizon oil spill is “relatively tiny,” compared to the “very big ocean.”

UPDATE: Computer analysis of the underwater video of the spill confirms that initial estimates were off by a factor of 10. We now know that the well is putting out as much oil as the Exxon Valdez spill every four days.

UPDATE: Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R) to tourists: “enjoy the beach,” (and please ignore the dead dolphins).

UPDATE: Oil spill could go on for years, experts say.

  1. #1 by brewski on May 13, 2010 - 9:10 pm

    The Exxon Valdez ranks 34th in all time world oil spills. Most Americans would have a hard time naming one of the 33 spills which were larger since, if it doesn’t affect the US, then US media doesn’t bother with it much.

  2. #2 by Larry Bergan on May 13, 2010 - 10:38 pm

    I’ve heard they are spraying chemical dispersants on the spill, which may or may not be more harmful to the wildlife then the spill itself, but which I imagine would make the spill look smaller.

    This is one scary problem which could have been prevented with some responsible government regulation.

  3. #3 by cav on May 14, 2010 - 6:56 am

    By now you’ve seen the video put out by BP, with the two tubes spewing white and black – well, I don’t know abour yours, but my tv shows these ports maybe six inches in diameter, on your wall-hung flat-screen, maybe 10″ or 12″.

    In reality they are FIVE FEET!

  4. #4 by Timkin on May 14, 2010 - 8:23 am

    “This is one scary problem which could have been prevented with some responsible government regulation”.

    Larry the nature of fascism and its definition is that it provides for corporations to place the figures they need into “government” to facilitate the activity they would pursue. Doh’bama is their bitch.Crony captialism in short. Look at the largest military budget ever signed, The Doh Boy signed it. The health care “reform” which now provides for your money to be paid to uncompetitive companies that are PRIVATELY owned. Doh Boy signed it. the bailout of Wall Street, Doh Boy in charge.

    This is straight raw Mussolini style fascism! It is a joke by now that progressives still blame Bush and republicans for what is obviously a fraud perpetrated by Doh Boy, upon their willing minds.

    Enjoy, the only change, all you will soon have left are the pennies in your pocket, or in the bin by the register at the convenience store.

    It was no more than 6 weeks ago that Doh’bama, the Great Change Hope, was shilling for offshore drilling. Amusing, do you ever take the lampshade off your head Larry?

    Cav, Biggest tools ever made for the job, 160k psi operating pressures, if anyone can stop this, it sure as SHIT is NOT the US government. The people with the expertise are on the job, and the moron government ALLOWED them to drill the well, and operate with infractions, just like the coal mine that blew up.

    Get with the program, without energy there is NO empire.

  5. #5 by james farmer on May 14, 2010 - 8:35 am

    It is a joke by now that progressives still blame Bush and republicans for what is obviously a fraud perpetrated by Doh Boy …..

    Stated by someone who, quite apparently, has his head positioned far up his ass.

  6. #6 by Larry Bergan on May 14, 2010 - 8:43 am

    I may have a lampshade on my head, but at least everybody knows who I am; glen/whoever, (in the words of John Stewart), “not so much.”

    Oh, well, (as they say), that’s life…


  7. #7 by Uncle Rico on May 14, 2010 - 8:52 am

    The MSM needs to jettison the innocuous “leak” terminology being foisted upon us by BP and its lapdog, the federal gubmint. This ain’t no “leak” folks, its a fucking gusher that is spewing somewhere between 56,000 and 84,000 bpd into the Gulf.

  8. #8 by Larry Bergan on May 14, 2010 - 9:22 am

    Texas teabags AHOY!

  9. #9 by Timkin on May 14, 2010 - 10:21 am

    Hhaha Larry, they know who you are, if that is what you wish, the idiot with a lampshade on his head.

    So your news comes via a pretty untalented guy from the Comedy Channel? I have some spare light shades you can use for variety, colorful as well.

    James, if by now you still believe in Obama, you would have dire need of a proctologist to get yourself to hear that “popping noise”. The sound that is made when someone of your description finally has their head levered out of their ass, the pop can be heard from quite a distance.

  10. #10 by Larry Bergan on May 14, 2010 - 10:37 am

    The pop heard round the world? I’m DEFINITELY up for that pseudoglen!

  11. #11 by cav on May 14, 2010 - 1:10 pm

    Timkin, If the empire hinges on planet threating quantities of energy, then I say, good ridence to all the collateral damage that both have brought. May empire and environmental degredation RIP (and the perps of both be prosecuted, jailed or hanged).

    Now will the people with the expertise to contrive such a fuck-up, please provide a fix?

  12. #12 by Larry Bergan on May 14, 2010 - 1:33 pm

    The only justice we have is that the cowards will die along side us, but I’ll take it because it’s the only thing I have left.

    Goodbye, all.

  13. #13 by Larry Bergan on May 14, 2010 - 1:40 pm

    Of course, I never had the courage that Joe Hill or Joan Baez had, and for that, I am eternally ashamed!

  14. #14 by Larry Bergan on May 14, 2010 - 1:43 pm

    That kind of courage could kill my internet connection; what am I to do, pseudoglen?

  15. #15 by Richard Warnick on May 14, 2010 - 1:54 pm

    Now will the people with the expertise to contrive such a fuck-up, please provide a fix?

    Those people’s core competence seems to be in circumventing environmental laws and faking the results of blowout preventer tests. But they think the relief well might do the trick within three months.

  16. #16 by Larry Bergan on May 14, 2010 - 1:57 pm

    I’m afraid the people who contrived a fuck-up can only contrive another fuck-up.

  17. #17 by Uncle Rico on May 14, 2010 - 2:39 pm

    I don’t know. The Junk Shot sounds promising.

  18. #18 by Larry Bergan on May 14, 2010 - 3:32 pm

    Uncle Rico:

    I’m sorry, that was really long, but I’m going to have something longer in the way of comic relief for a tragedy of this scope. 🙁

  19. #19 by Timkin on May 14, 2010 - 7:43 pm

    Cav; The “planet” is 4.5 billion years old. It can’t “die”. It started “dead” and is now subject to our life form and its vagaries. The most we are going to do is make the place unsupportable for our kind of complex life and other critters.

    Cav, this body of gas and oil is about the biggest single strike ever found, they mean to keep it. Recently a geologist stated that there are so many hydro carbons on Earth, the factor that will limit their extended use will be the oxygen to burn it. Great huh? Guess we better plant a few more trees.

    Eukaryotes, what we are mostly made of, have survived all manner of catastrophe, climate change, toxification for the the last 1 billion years. They are still here, and aren’t likely going away, though we may be. 99% of all the species on Earth that have ever lived, have gone extinct, and we didn’t kill them all to quote George Carlin. I do so since comedy is an important news source on this site. It is what Larry uses to form his opinions.

    Just trying to respond to the audience here. Is that evil?

  20. #20 by cav on May 15, 2010 - 7:00 am

    Eukaryotes Unite, you have nothing to lose but your bonds!

    Why am I not taking comfort in your ‘explanation’? The stripmines, removed mountain-tops, floating masses of crude, clouds of effluent and all the other effects of ‘civilization as we know it’, while laughable, are not the places to be growing lots of trees.

    And didn’t someone somewhere point out that they’re our (the Peoples) resources in the first place – that the swine doing the extracting aren’t doing anyone but themselves any favors? Their greedy need to ‘satisy’ our growing demand will wreck the place even for them.
    Genius – I’ll give them that. Ha.

  21. #21 by Timkin on May 15, 2010 - 9:05 am

    Ever see the Scablands of WA? When Lake Missoula drained suddenly when its ice dam failed? The Ripple marks have a frequency of 2 miles or more. Total destruction. TOTAL, in about a week. or so.

    The Chixilub Impact? Pieces of earth’s crust from the ejecta from the crater, were cast into orbit, then rained down on Earth for years. Fur balls underground were the benefactors of this. That would be our ancestors. They survived, most everything else…didn’t. That was more or less and instantaneous act of destruction that ended the world for the most part. All the Earth’s forests burned off, the seas boiled in places.

    Vulcanism is ongoing, and the periods of raised activity filled the atmosphere with sulfuric acid and methane and mass carbon..all kinds of things died.

    The worry and complaining has little merit considering the choices most people are making. You can opt to buy none of these products if you wish, but that would require sacrifice, and a marginalized life by our current standards, so it is quite obvious that folks would rather live in their own filth, see species perish due to the filth, maybe even some of our own, and carry on. 11 men lost their lives to provide the energy everybody I know uses. It is already on, and has been for a century or more.

    BP is not in business to “give” you oil, they are in the business of “selling” you oil. Plain and simple and fit nicely with our economic model. Be thankful, you could be riding a donkey, or if a little better heeled, you could have some slave drag you around in a rickshaw.

    We are as much a “catastrophe” upon Earth as any of inanimate events that have occurred in billions of years Earth has been here. I do not believe we have the ability to change the simple fact, that our species is catalytic in the preponderance of entropy. It is our talent.

    The complainers really are not sorry if they are worried, only gutless.

  22. #22 by cav on May 15, 2010 - 12:00 pm

  23. #23 by Dwight Sheldon Adams on May 17, 2010 - 11:54 am

    It’s so pleasing to know that some things never change.

    Exhibit A: Glenn blathers on and on about nothing. A sentence here, a sentence there. . .and we have pages and pages of poorly-intended, poorly-executed tripe, absolutely negligent of the social context in which the tripe is expressed. It’s like he thinks we’re all just a sounding board. And then, of course, the self-referential retardedness and the eternal immunity of the superior “self” from pan-species criticisms. Collectively, isn’t Glenn the definition of social ineptitude?

    Fun stuff. I always enjoy the chance to analyze a personality with his eyes staring back into his own head. Blindness lasts only as long as you want it to, Glenn.

    As for your actual assertions: all can change, Glenn. Most won’t. Some will. To stand by and mock those who wish to change the things you so self-righteously criticize? That’s pessimism like a fire; you just burn up every idea to feed your own cynicism.


  24. #24 by Glenn Hoefer aka Carl on May 17, 2010 - 4:05 pm

    How does any of that relate to the spill Dwight? Must we be privy to your personal feelings?

  25. #25 by Dwight Sheldon Adams on May 18, 2010 - 7:43 am

    Must we be privy to yours?

    Again, self-referential. You got a problem with it? Then prove me wrong by cutting the crap. ‘Course, you know what they say about old dogs. . .

  26. #26 by Carl on May 18, 2010 - 2:47 pm

    Who are you talking to Dwight? You are surely not focused on the spill. Please stay on topic.

  27. #27 by John on May 18, 2010 - 3:12 pm

    Who are you talking to Dwight? You are surely not focused on the spill. Please stay on topic if you would.

  28. #28 by Bella on May 18, 2010 - 3:22 pm

    This is worth a read.

  29. #29 by Dwight Sheldon Adams on May 19, 2010 - 8:12 am


    Nice job revealing your ip addresses through multiple identical posts. Is that a rabbit up your sleeve? It must hurt to work so hard for a failed illusion.

    As to the topic: if you had the brains of a lemming you would notice that I did comment on the issue at hand—at least as much as you did. In response to your fatalistic, anti-everything BS, I said: “all can change, Glenn. Most won’t. Some will.” Equal content in fewer words.

    One of the chief differences between humans and every other catastrophe you describe is that we engage in catastrophic behavior as an expression of will. We can therefore challenge our destructive behavior and stymie it somewhat. Some of us already do, or at least do the best we can at it.

    Our position as a tiny influence in one tiny span of the Earth’s grand history doesn’t change the fact that we must do the best we can with what we have. A malaria-carrying mosquito is insignificant in the grand scheme of things, as is her victim—but, you know what? Getting malaria still sucks, and it’s still a good idea to prevent it if we can. A mosquito isn’t going to change its behavior to spare us, partially because it’s not even self-aware. Some humans live the same way. Most, probably. But those of us who can change our behavior to spare suffering should do so, to the best of our ability. It’s even appropriate to force others to change their behavior as well, at times, or at least to restrict their influence and harm.

    The environmental disaster that is mankind is therefore not a mere aspect of cause and reaction and natural entropy. We are unique in our ability to prevent the harm we so delight in causing. The BP disaster is one more illustration of the problem of us. I’ve considered that, regardless of the ill-conceived drilling operation, there may have come a time when pressure below the ocean floor forced and gap and spewed all of that oil out into the ocean bed, anyway. Who knows? In a million-year span, the timing is irrelevant. One leaking subaqueous oil deposit is as good as another.

    But humans don’t live million-year spans. It’s not our concern, therefore, to judge things based upon them. What we know: the BP disaster is our fault collectively, the fault of a few individuals, corporations, and countries more pointedly. Preventing it in the future is a better idea than not, and doing as we need to reduce our usage of the black stuff maywill require sacrifice and not a little bit of economic hardship (relatively speaking, of course).

    Dwight Sheldon Adams

  30. #30 by Timkin on May 19, 2010 - 8:20 am

    The black stuff is the source of this economy that you see Dwight, without it, it cannot exist.

    Should we be safer about getting oil? Sure, best reason to drill on land is there for anyone to witness right now.

    The forcing of oil onto the ocean floor is happening in the Bering sea, it is a lighter product, and will eventually percolate up through fissures and faults.

    On a ambiguous note, demand for oil is way down, crude is down to 70 a barrel, and dropping as we enter the summer season. That could be a sign that nobody has the dough to do anything big.

  31. #31 by Dwight Sheldon Adams on May 19, 2010 - 8:30 am


    Gosh, that Rense article was worse than usual. To make the claim that a secret cartel’s purposeful goal to destroy as much life as possible caused the BP disaster for unknown reasons? That’s more conspiracy theory than I think even Glenn Beck can stomach.


    The black stuff isn’t the source of the economy; it certainly is it’s chief tool. There was a time when the same could have been said of lumber and coal, and no one would have dreamed that we would one day depend upon uranium for anything—if they even knew what uranium was.

    As you so frequently point out, we will survive. Farbeit for us to survive mass migrations (as you’ve predicted will be necessary due to climate change), but not to survive gradual reductions in our oil dependency. I have no doubt that “this economy that [I] see” will have to change dramatically in the process of removing the black stuff from the top of our dependency list.

    The source of the economy is productive labor. That is something that will always be available—a permanently tapable resource, as long as any resource may be tapped. There are more innovations yet to come, more sacrifices and successes yet to achieve. We’ll see what happens. It’s a good idea to keep working at it in the ways that we each individually can in the meantime.


  32. #32 by Richard Warnick on May 19, 2010 - 8:42 am

    I didn’t read the article (website blocked at my workplace). Does it explain how the alleged saboteurs reached their target, more than 40 miles out to sea and a mile down?

  33. #33 by Dwight Sheldon Adams on May 19, 2010 - 8:49 am

    No. It just says “They’re powerful. They want to harm any and all forms of life, for reasons we can’t fathom.”

    It also points out a dozen alternatives to the current clean-up process which are at least 1000% better, cheaper, and less likely to cause the death of the whole Gulf Coast.

    It’s a Rense article, and a bad one at that. Did you expect explanations?


  34. #34 by Timkin on May 20, 2010 - 11:47 am

    From the people who brought global warming and climate change.

  35. #35 by Timkin on May 20, 2010 - 11:53 am

    Dwight if you had lived through the Exxon Valdez spill, you would have a different sense of things. They didn’t sabotage the well, but when things go to lemons, the oil majors make lemonade.

    The fishing industry in Alaska has not returned in many areas, and the spill destroyed the shore side fisheries and that opened the areas up for the big trawlers, many foreign, that have annihilated much of the grounds of that area of Alaska.

    Explain the dispersant issue Dwight. Why are we sinking the spill? So it will appear later and far away, and then liability will be impossible to fix. See, Dwight, the fix is in, and always is planned for. You don’t expect the producers to take the hit for their errors as they look for our oil? The responsibility is ours.

  36. #36 by Bubba V. on May 20, 2010 - 11:01 pm

    or taken

  37. #37 by cav on May 21, 2010 - 6:52 am

    All the cumulative train wrecks ain’t shit compared to this.

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