A Drop in the Ocean

To tell the truth, I was getting a little worried about the sheer scale of the oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico. After the estimates of how fast oil was gushing into the Gulf were increased by several times, I began to worry that this was going to be a huge environmental catastrophe.

After all, it’s likely spilling an Exxon Valdez worth of petroleum into the Gulf every four or five days. And it’s already been almost four weeks. There are vast swaths of oil floating on the surface, slowly moving toward land. There are giant plumes of oil suspended in the depths, creating giant ‘dead zones’, perhaps as a result of the new and experimental use of chemical dispersants for this type of leak. But now I’m not worried any more. It’s all been put into perspective, and all it takes is a little math to prove it.

The Chief Executive of British Petroleum, Tony Hayward, said recently in an interview:

“The Gulf of Mexico is a very big ocean. The amount of volume of oil and dispersant we are putting into it is tiny in relation to the total water volume.”

And he’s right. Let’s take the most dire estimates. The biggest estimate now is that of Steven Wereley, an associate professor at Purdue University, who estimates the rate at 2,352,000 to 3,528,000 gallons per day applying a method called ‘particle image velocimetry’ to the recently released video of the actual leak. So let’s round to 3.5 million gallons per day being spilt into the Gulf. So far it’s been twenty-seven days, but they estimate about ninety days total to drill all of the necessary relief wells. So ninety days times 3.5 million gallons each day is 315 million gallons of oil. But the Gulf contains 660 quadrillion gallons of sea water. That’s over two billion times as much water than the oil that’s likely be released. To put it another way, the Gulf will likely be only about 0.000000047% oil. By the most dire estimate.

So when you see oil covering animals, or floating up on beaches, don’t get discouraged. It might be bad for that particular dolphin or this particular bird, but 99.999999953% of the Gulf is just fine.

2 Responses to “A Drop in the Ocean”
  1. itzexodus says:

    You know, I was thinking that you were an idiot, now I’m pretty sure of it. Are you seriously going to trust anyone from BP right now? Seriously. Use your head, fucking sheep.

  2. htomfields says:

    Several different velocimetry techniques are used at Idaho National Laboratory’s MIR Lab, including Laser Doppler velocimetry (LDV), particle image velocimetry (PIV) and stereoscopic PIV. Learn more about the world’s largest flow facility here.


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