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The BP Oil Spill: Three Years Later

WAVELAND, MS – DECEMBER 06: Workers clean tarballs from the BP oil spill on Waveland beach December 6, 2010 in Waveland, Mississippi. Nearly eight months after the spill, tarballs are still washing up on the beach. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

One of the worst disasters in American History came to an end three years ago today. It’s most commonly known as the BP oil spill. After 85 days of oil spilling into the Gulf of Mexico from the Deepwater Horizon well a 75-ton cap was lowered into place to stop the spillage.

Some Scary Numbers

How much oil are we talking about here. Some of the numbers are staggering to contemplate.

  • Over the 85 days, 4.9 million barrels of oil were released into the Gulf waters from the Deepwater Horizon well. That’s about one half of the daily imports to the US.
  • Compared to the Exxon Valdez disaster in Alaska the Deepwater well dispersed 19 times more oil than that event.
  • When the wellhead ruptured 62,000 barrels per day leaked into the Gulf. Enough oil to take care of Delaware for a day.
  • At the time of the leak oil prices was $81.17 per barrel making this spill worth about $397.7 million dollars.
  • The oil contaminated six hundred and sixty-five miles of coastline.
  • The amount of lost oil could have heated 13,208 homes for an entire year.

Clean Up Efforts

The clean up efforts by both personnel, time and total cost were not small numbers either.

  • The National Incident Command used 16.5 gallons of chemicals in the cleanup
  • Over time oil will disperse naturally. 32.9 million gallons broke down into droplets smaller than the diameter of a human hair.
  • Natural evaporation took care of another 51.5 million gallons.
  • Eight hundred and thirty skimming vessels recovered 6.2 million gallons.
  • Another 35 million gallons were recovered from the wellhead to ships on the surface.
  • Four hundred eleven controlled burns reduced another 11.4 million gallons.

Other Numbers

  • Enough potential gasoline was lost that could have powered 25% of US cars for one day.
  • A disaster of this magnitude can’t be done without people. 47,000 were utilized on July 8th and over time that number was reduced to 28,900.

 Some Final Thoughts

Not much would happen in the US without oil. I know environmentalists would love to see the slippery stuff retired to some museum but that’s just not going to happen for a few years. In our efforts to make a cleaner safer planet sometimes “stuff” happens.

Eleven people died in this incident and that’s very sobering. But three years later it’s old news in the Gulf. Fishing is coming back, tourism is coming back and the economy of the Gulf States is slowing getting back to normal.

Does that mean that we just write this off as back luck? Of course not. We learned a lot of what not to do with the Exxon Valdez as well as the BP spill. More than likely one or more similar incidents will happen sometime in the future. But our quest for alternative energy has an evolutionary timeline that simply can’t be rushed. It’s like asking your 4 year old to suddenly be 24.

There is no way to speed a naturally occurring process. John Kennedy wanted to go to the moon in 1960; it didn’t happen until ten years later. Computers and cell phones didn’t evolve over night. The need for oil will vanish one day. But until then — stuff happens.

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