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Gulf oil spill: approaching size of Exxon Valdez, whistleblower group says

May 1, 2010 |  1:16 pm

  Oil-web

An oceanographer analyzing the official oil spill maps in the Gulf of Mexico said Saturday that the BP spill is now a more than 10 million gallons, nearly as large as the slick created by the Exxon Valdez, the largest oil spill in U.S. history.

Ian MacDonald, an oceanographer at Florida State University, avoided comparisons to the Exxon spill, which was a heavier crude, but said Saturday: "The spill is growing. I'm comfortable saying that the size and extent of this slick is 10 million gallons."

Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen said earlier that “any exact estimate is probably impossible at this time.”

The environmental whistle-blower group Skytruth estimated the spill at slightly more than 11 million gallons and once again increased the current calculations for the flow rate to 25,000 barrels a day.The nonprofit originally discovered that official flow estimates of the BP blowout were far too small, an observation later confirmed by federal officials and BP.

John Amos, president of Skytruth, said Saturday that analysis of the Coast Guard’s mapping reveals that the “rock-bottom” estimate for the amount of oil in the gulf’s waters has reached 11.1 million gallons.

MacDonald, the oceanographer, said his estimates came from satellite and infrared imagery and used standard federal guidelines for the estimates. He said that the good news is that winds so far have prevented the massive spill from coming into contact with the Gulf Stream current, which could sweep the slick eastward around the Gulf coastline and into Florida, possibly around the tip of that state and into the Atlantic.

Regarding the flow rates, the Mobile Press Register reported that an internal memo from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that laid out a worst-case scenario of 50,000 barrels a day pouring from the unchecked wellhead.

That would be consistent with flow rates from other oil-producing gulf wells, where controlled flow rates yield 30,000 barrels a day.

-- Julie Cart

Photo: NASA satellite image of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill on April 29.




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