Panic time, folks. News stories about impending environmental disasters. A couple of senators calling for hearings. The media calling it "Obama's Katrina". Time for that rarest of things, perspective. (Updated with retrospective info on August 2... nothing deleted)
1. Chance that a US operated Gulf of Mexico rig sinks and spills? A. 0.025% or 1 in 4000.
2. How much oil will this spill (worst case scenario)? A. 150,000 barrels. (So much for my worst case estimate. Current estimates were that between 3 million and 5.25 million barrels were released. This represents between 1 part in 5,027,758,230 and 1 part in 2,932,858,967, or 2 to 3 parts in 10 trillion on a volume basis for the Gulf of Mexico)
3. How much is it leaking now? A. 5,000 barrels per day, although it sounds so much bigger when you multiply by 42 and put it into gallons. (Ex Post Facto analysis indicates daily rates as high as 60,000 barrels per day).
4. How much natural oil seepage is there in the Gulf of Mexico? A. 5,000 barrels per day, although it is widely distributed and not point sourced. (No Change, nearly 2 million barrels of oil per year naturally seep into the Gulf of Mexico)
5. Where will this rank? A. 37th in the world's top 71 man-made oil spills. (Substantively wrong here as well. Should read "Since WWII". 56 ships carrying an estimated 4.38 million barrels (600,000 tons) of oil were sunk during WWII in the Gulf of Mexico and 42 tankers carrying an estimated 460,000 tons (3.36 million barrels) were sunk of the US East Coast during WWII) (2nd to 5th, next to the Gulf War Spill (largest) and the Aegean Captain in modern times and WWII sunk tankers since the late 1930s).
6. What happened to the 121,000 barrels spilled by the Mega Borg (the second largest spill in the GOM)? A. They burned it. 1800 barrels recovered, 270 barrels left after burning, so, in essence, via burning and wind and wave action biodegradation, 121,000 barrels turned into a little over 2000 barrels. The Prudhoe Bay incident was magnified because it had little wind or wave action... it was a closed system. (No Change).
7. How does this compare to, say, wildfires? A. Wildfires fully devastate the areas they cover, and typically take 5-30 years to fully recover from a ground fire and up to 150 years to recover from a crown fire. Full recovery from an oil spill is typically a year or less.
8. OK, but how about the carbon footprint between them? A. In fully protected fire areas (a small amount of total forest), there are typically 10,000 to 30,000 forest fires per year world wide. These consume 16,000,000 hectares per year, and release 1.6 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent per year (mind you, this is just a small subset of fires, the subset we are most able to fight and protect). This spill will release, at most a little over 52,000 tonnes of CO2 equivalent. That is, 0.0033% of fully protected fightable wildfires. (Significantly wrong here as well. 200,000 to 350,000 tonnes of CO2 equivalent, although still less than 0.05% of fully protected fightable wildfires. This means that this is meaningless from a carbon footprint point of view).
9. But, but... the poor birds? A. Fires fully incinerate the animals they touch. Oily animals make fine, heart-rending posters and cover shots for Time. (Flippancy aside, over 4,000 dead birds and sea animals have been found to date and over 1500 birds and sea animals have been cleaned and released. So far, no biologist is claiming more than a nominal impact on any population, although this could change).
So now lets look at the number of these spills...
Now, let's look at the charts. First, how will this rank in terms of Gulf of Mexico spills?
How does this rate from a global perspective?
In essence, one could fit the environmental consequences of every spill in the history of the hydrocarbon era into one small forest fire, out of the 10,000 we have every year. (No Change)
In fact, those that are trying to label this as a "Katrina" episode, either motivated to hate the oil industry for whatever reason or hate Obama for whatever reason (imagine THAT combination of folks, a lot of whiskey and beer, with maybe Alex Jones thrown in for good measure, at a party! What a fine party that would be!), are just propagandizing, as usual.
So those are the facts. Make of them what you will. Without perspective, you are bound to make poor decisions.