The Gulf Oil Disaster by the Numbers

This blog was written by Jennifer Rennicks, former Senior Director of Policy & Communications at the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.

Guest Blog | May 1, 2010 | Energy Policy, Offshore Drilling

The continuous stream of updates on the Deepwater oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico suggests this story is moving from bad to worse.

Early estimates from BP were that 1,000 barrels of oil a day week leaking from the ruptured wellhead a mile below the ocean surface.  On Wednesday, officials revised that estimate to 5,000 barrels a day.  Late on Friday, a professor of oceanography at Florida State University who specializes in tracking ocean oil seeps from satellite imagery, Dr. Ian MacDonald, said there may already be more than 9 million gallons of oil floating in the Gulf now, based on his estimate of a 25,000 barrel-a-day leak rate.

As large and shocking as these numbers seem, what do they even mean?  How can we quantify the vast quantities of oil that are gushing into the Gulf of Mexico every day?

Here’s a few ways to visualize 5,000 barrels (210,000 gallons) of oil, which for now represent the ‘accepted’ estimates.

At today’s average gas prices ($2.88/gallon) it would cost $604,800/day if you left the pump running at your local gas station to discharge that much fuel.

You would have to open 14.5 gas pumps on full all day to fill 5,000 barrels.

That much oil would completely fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool in less than 3 days.

Or if you filled gallon milk jugs with oil and placed the jugs on a regulation-sized NFL football field, you would cover 91% of a field each day with oil-filled jugs. In the 10 days since the Deepwater exploded, enough oil has leaked into the Gulf of Mexico to cover 91% of the football fields where the Miami Dolphins, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Jacksonville Jaguars, New Orleans Saints, Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers, Houston Texans, Dallas Cowboys, Tennessee Titans and the Washington Redskins play football.

The Oil Disaster by the Numbers:

  • $16,000,000: Amount BP spent on lobbying in Washington in 2009
  • 210,000: Gallons of oil spilled per day at the BP platform site (low end of the range)
  • 162,000: Gallons of oil spilled per day in BP’s “worst-case scenario” exploration plan
  • 315,000,000,000: Barrels of oil the U.S. consumes per year (approx)
  • 2,726,000: Million metric tons of greenhouse gases emitted on U.S. roads every year (approx)
  • 1.6%: Percentage of total global proven oil reserves the U.S. possesses
  • 0.3%: Percentage of total global proven oil reserves in the U.S. outer continental shelf
  • 1: Number of shut-off switches BP may have needed to purchase to prevent this accident
  • 3-8: Months it could take to contain the spill
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