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article imageGulf oil spill 10 times worse than originally predicted

By Sharon Davis     May 13, 2010 in Environment
New data indicates that nearly 70,000 barrels are gushing out every day - that is 10 times the original estimate of the flow by the US Coast Guard and the equivalent of one Exxon Valdez tanker every four days.
The Huffington Post reports that crude oil has been jetting out of a pipe a mile underneath the surface of the Gulf of Mexico for three weeks now.
According to NPR the spill is much worse than originally reported.
The volume of oil pouring into the Gulf of Mexico from the Deepwater Horizon oil rig may be at least 10 times higher than previously estimated.
The US Coast Guard originally estimated that 5,000 barrels a day was gushing from a broken pipe on the Gulf floor but sophisticated scientific analysis of sea floor video made available Wednesday by the oil company BP shows that the true figure is closer to 70,000 barrels a day.
That means the oil spilling into the Gulf has already far exceeded the equivalent of the 1989 Exxon Valdez tanker accident in Alaska, which spilled at least 250,000 barrels of oil according to NPR.
The analysis was conducted by Steve Werely, an associate professor at Purdue University, using a technique called particle image velocimetry. The method is reported by NPR to be accurate to about 20%. That means the flow could range between 56,000 barrels a day and 84,000 barrels a day.
But the pipe is spewing both oil and gas and the BP does not make it clear how much is oil and how much gas.
The Huffington Post notes that: Federal officials are carefully tracking the trajectory of the oil that's made it to the water's surface and, increasingly, on shore - in addition to a map that is updated daily.
They say there's never been an oil spill this big and this deep before. Nor have authorities ever used chemical dispersants so widely. Some scientists suspect that a lot, if not most, of the oil is lurking below the surface rather than on it, in a gigantic underwater plume the size and trajectory of which remain largely a mystery.
According to scientists interviewed by the Huffington Post most major oil spills occur right at the surface but this one is entirely different.
With a spill this deep, the oil starts off extremely dense and under pressure. Some of it breaks up or dissolves into the water on the way up, and some of it makes it all the way to the surface. But some will stabilize in the water column maybe as low as 200 to 300 metres off the seabed, then it starts drifting with the current, reports the Huffington Post.
Knowing the extent of the spill and where it is lying it critical to mitigating any damage it might cause.
More about Oil spil, Worse, Coast guard, Gulf of Mexico
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