Estimates now have it larger than the Exxon Valdez spill -- and could top 39 million gallons
The Gulf oil spill has surpassed the Exxon Valdez as the worst in U.S. history, according to new estimates released Thursday, but the Coast Guard and BP said an untested procedure to stop it seemed to be working.
A team of scientists trying to figure out how much oil has been flowing since the offshore rig Deepwater Horizon exploded April 20 and sank two days later found the rate was at least twice and possibly up to five times as high as previously thought.
Even using the most conservative estimate, that means the leak has grown to nearly 19 million gallons, surpassing the size of the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster, which at about 11 million gallons had been the nation’s worst spill. Under the highest estimate, nearly 39 million gallons may have spilled.
U.S. Geological Survey Director Marcia McNutt said two different teams of scientists calculated that the well has been spewing between 504,000 and more than 1 million gallons a day.
BP and the Coast Guard estimated soon after the explosion that about 210,000 gallons a day was leaking, but scientists who watched underwater video of well had been saying for weeks it was probably more.
Last week, BP inserted a mile-long tube to siphon some of the oil into a tanker. The tube sucked up 924,000 gallons of oil, but engineers had to dismantle so they could start the risky procedure known as a top kill to try to cut off the flow altogether by shooting heavy drilling fluid into the well.
If that works, BP will then inject cement into the well to seal it. The top kill has been used above ground but has never before been tried 5,000 feet beneath the sea. BP pegged its chance of success at 60 to 70 percent.
Lt. Commander Tony Russell, an aide to Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, said Thursday that the flow of mud was stopping some oil and gas but had a ways to go before it proved successful.
“As you inject your mud into it, it is going to stop some hydrocarbons,” he said. “That doesn’t mean it’s successful.”
BP spokesman Tom Mueller also discounted news reports that the top kill had worked.
“We appreciate the optimism, but the top kill operation is continuing through the day today — that hasn’t changed,” he said Thursday morning. “We don’t anticipate being able to say anything definitive on that until later today.”
Oil has been coating birds and delicate wetlands along the Louisiana coast, and the political fallout from the spill has reached all the way to Washington, where Democratic sources said Thursday that the Obama administration has fired the head of the U.S. Minerals Management Service in response to blistering criticism over lax oversight of offshore drilling.
The sources, speaking on condition of anonymity before the official announcement, told The Associated Press that President Barack Obama would announce the decision Thursday. Elizabeth “Liz” Birnbaum had run the service in the Interior Department since July 2009.
Fishermen, hotel and restaurant owners, politicians and residents along the coast are fed up with BP’s failures to stop the oil, and the anger has turned toward Obama and his administration. Polls show the public is souring on their handling of the catastrophe.
On Wednesday, the Coast Guard pulled commercial fishing boats from oil cleanup efforts in Breton Sound off the Louisiana coast after several people became ill. Crew members on three vessels reported nausea, dizziness, headaches and chest pains, the Coast Guard said. Four people were hospitalized, including one who was flown to a hospital.
If the top kill fails, BP says it has several backup plans, including sealing the well’s blowout preventer with a smaller cap, which would contain the oil. An earlier attempt to cap the blowout preventer failed. BP could also try a “junk shot” — shooting golf balls and other debris into the blowout preventer to clog it up — during the top kill process.
The only permanent solution is drilling a second well, but that will take a couple of months.
Though the spill is now the biggest in U.S. history, it’s not the biggest ever in the Gulf. An offshore drilling rig in Mexican waters — the Ixtoc I — blew up in June 1979, releasing 140 million gallons of oil.
Borenstein reported from Washington. Ben Nuckols in Covington, La., and Andrew Taylor and Matthew Daly in Washington contributed to this report.
More Related Stories
- Pa. governor "can't find" any Latinos to work in his administration
- London machete attack could be linked to terrorism
- Conservative group blames military sexual assault on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" repeal
- Lois Lerner, IRS disaster
- Donald Rumsfeld worried that marriage equality will lead to polygamy
- Experts: Fox News spying scandal a game-changer
- San Francisco Giant Jeremy Affeldt apologizes for homophobic past
- 9-year-old slams Rahm over Chicago schools
- Stockholm riots rage for third day
- Wall Street firm's "Golden Pitchbook" is totally sexist, full of lies
- Must-see morning clip: Toronto's eccentric and allegedly crack-smoking mayor
- Federal court strikes down Arizona abortion ban
- Jodi Arias: I deserve a second chance
- Oklahoma residents return home to pick up the pieces
- Florida man with connection to Tsarnaev killed by FBI
- FBI identifies 5 Benghazi suspects
- Here come the tornado truthers. Already
- Peace Corps to allow gay couples to volunteer together
- Moore officials: Funds for "safe rooms" were held up by red tape
- Rand Paul: Congress should apologize to Apple, not the other way around
- Rescue crews race to find tornado survivors
Featured Slide Shows
The week in 10 picsclose X
- 1 of 11
Lisa Montgomery embraces her nephew Thursday after a tornado tore apart her home in Cleburne, Texas. The twister killed six people and destroyed entire swaths of the North Texas town.
Credit: AP/LM Otero
Jack McMahon, the defense attorney for abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, speaks outside the Criminal Justice Center in Philadelphia Tuesday. His client was convicted of killing three babies in his clinic, and will serve multiple life sentences.
Credit: AP/Matt Rourke
A photo taken Monday captures Vice President Joe Biden's response to a Milwaukee second-grader's innovative proposal to end America's epidemic of gun violence. This guy!
Credit: AP/Jenny Aicher
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., flanked by a grouper-eyed Michele Bachmann, addresses the IRS' admission that it targeted Tea Party groups in advance of the 2012 election. In an op-ed for CNN Thursday, the Kentucky senator slammed the president for his faux outrage.
Credit: AP/Molly Riley
Ousted IRS chief Steven Miller is sworn in on Capitol Hill Friday. Miller testified before the House Ways and Means Committee on the extra scrutiny the agency gave conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.
Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite
Attorney General Eric Holder pauses as he testifies on Capitol Hill before the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday. Holder is under fire, among other things, for the Justice Department's gathering of phone records at the Associated Press.
Credit: AP/Carolyn Kaster
O.J. Simpson sits during an evidentiary hearing at Clark County District Court in Las Vegas, Nev., Thursday. Simpson, who is currently serving a nine-to-33-year sentence in state prison for armed robbery and kidnapping, is using a writ of habeas corpus to seek a new trial.
Credit: AP/Las Vegas Review-Journal/Jeff Scheid
Major Tom to ground control: On Sunday astronaut Chris Hadfield recorded the first music video from space, a cover of David Bowie's "Space Oddity."
Credit: AP/NASA/Chris Hadfield
When it rains it pours. President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference Thursday with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, inexplicably inspiring an #umbrellagate Twitter meme.
Credit: AP/Jacquelyn Martin
A smoke plume rises high above a road block at the intersection of County A and Ross Road east of Solon Springs, Wis., Tuesday. No injuries were reported, but the the wildfire caused evacuations across northwestern Wisconsin.
Credit: AP/The Duluth News-Tribune/Clint Austin
Recent Slide Shows
- 1 of 11