First we were told the well was leaking 1000 barrels of oil per day. Then we were told the well was actually leaking 5000 barrels of oil a day.

Turns out, 5000 is still way too low. The Wall Street Journal reports today that, "Industry experts examining satellite data said they believe oil may be leaking at a rate of 25,000 barrels a day.... If that's the case, more than 9 million gallons of oil may already be sloshing through the Gulf of Mexico."

The Exxon Valdez leaked a grand total of 11 million gallons into Alaska's Prince William Sound in March 1989. But the Valdez was a tanker. Once it was empty, the flow of oil stopped. As of today, there is no real end in sight for stopping the flow of oil into the Gulf.

The long term solution is to drill a new hole to intercept the leaking oil and then to cement the leaks. This is not an easy task. The Wall Street Journal reports that it took 5 attempts over the course of 10 weeks to pull this off when an Austrialian offshore well blew out last year.

The short term band-aid is being created on the fly. BP is constructing "three steel boxes - each 40 feet tall and weighing 73 tons" equipped with a series of pipes that will feed to ships. The idea is to place the boxes on top of the oil leaks and then the pipes will divert the oil to the ships. The novel part is this: This "technique has never been tried in deep water, which involves much higher pressures and near-freezing water temperatures." Even if this works, it will take 2-4 weeks to get things in place.

In the meantime, the weather is making it difficult to get booms (vinyl oil containment barriers) placed fast enough, and those that have been placed are beginning to break in the rough weather. Chemical dispersants are being sprayed to dissolve the oil, but these chemicals pack their own harmful toxins. As Richard Charter, an expert in marine biology and oil spills, has noted to ProPublica: "There is a chemical toxicity to the dispersant compound that is in many ways worse than oil. It's a trade off - - you're damned if you do damned if you don't...."

Things look bleak and Charter is sounding direly prophetic: "Right now there is a headlong rush to get this oil out of sight out of mind. You can throw every resource we have at this spill. You can call out the Marine Corps and the National Guard. This is so big that it is unlikely that any amount of response is going to make much of a dent in the impacts. It's going to be mostly watching it happen."



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