Gulf Oil Spill: Biggest in US History

Having surpassed the Exxon Valdez oil spill of 1989 in Alaska, the Gulf of Mexico oil spill is the biggest oil disaster in United States history, according to federal scientists.

The well has gushed 500,000 to one million gallons per day, a long ways from the initial estimate of 210,000 gallons per day by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The spill was initially caused by a fire on a drilling rig

However, in a closed-door meeting with Congress, an official from BP admitted it could be as much as 2,520,000 gallons a day, but the government opted to independently verify the amount.

"We're not depending on what BP is telling us," said Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.

Five weeks into the oil spill on the Gulf Coast, an estimated 17 to 39 million gallons of oil has spilled into the gulf - surpassing the 11 million gallons that spewed into Alaska's Prince William Sound in the 1989 disaster.

The drilling rig, a Transocean Ltd contractor, was hired by BP llc. Formerly known as British Petroleum, BP is the third largest global energy company in the world, and has been convicted three times for violating environmental regulations.

The rig was located about 41 miles offshore Louisiana with a staff of 126 on board at the time of the spill. Though 115 people were rescued, 11 were declared dead after an extensive rescue mission failed. Many individuals on the rig were reported to be injured following the incident.

Following the fire and sinking of the ship, the federal government initiated a National Response team of 16 federal departments and agencies to monitor the emergency services and clean up, and to direct the efforts on behalf of BP.

On May 19, the Obama administration replaced the Minerals Management Service due to their “lax regulation of offshore drilling before the BP Plc spill,” delegating three offices instead to oversee leases, drilling safety and fee collection.

To combat the effects of the oil spill in the ocean, the federal Environmental Protection Agency and the Coast Guard authorized the use of dispersants that break up the oil and speed up its bio-degradation.

Thursday, BP engineers continued to pump hundreds of thousands of gallons of heavy mud into a massive device atop the runaway well in the latest attempt to stem the flow. The procedure -- known as a "top kill" -- started Wednesday afternoon and continued through the night, BP spokesman Graham MacEwen said.

According to some, the impacts of this oil spill may be long lasting.

Business owners nationwide are taking a hit, especially those involved in the seafood industry. A fishing ban placed in the Gulf region was recently expanded to 19 percent of the area. The tourism industry on the Gulf Coast is also suffering, despite business owners' hopes for a comeback after the recession.

Oil stocks have also dropped following the spill.

In terms of wildlife, the National Wildlife Foundation reports that Louisiana’s wetlands account for roughly 40% of wetlands in the contiguous United States - which means more than 400 species of birds and wildlife are at risk of the effects of the oil spill.

The spill could lead to long term climate changes as well, such as a severe hurricane season.

At a recent conference organized by Google, the BP chairman likened the recent disaster to the “Three Mile Island” reactor meltdown incident in 1979 in terms of its effects on the global energy industry.

“It will be a game changer like Three Mile Island,” BP chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg said. “We will learn to do it in a better way...We have to learn from it.”

                                                                Sameea Kamal

Sameea is a journalist and editing professional specializing in development/construction, green building & education.