New Estimates on Crude Released
Nightmarish findings released yesterday by a governmental panel of scientists reveal that the crude oil spewing from the damaged well in the Gulf of Mexico was being released at a rate of at least 20,000 to as many as 40,000 barrels daily before the riser pipe was cut on June 3 in BP’s third attempt to stop the flow. That’s up from the scientists’ previous estimate of 12,000-19,000 barrels a day, and it eclipses earlier estimates of 1,000 and 5,000 barrels daily.
The new numbers translate to 42 million to 84 million gallons of oil that may have contaminated the Gulf, according to the LA Times
. For reference: the Exxon Valdez
spilled 11 million gallons total into Alaska’s Prince William Sound.
The Coast Guard currently has two vessels parked by the well site to receive oil collected from a containment cap now positioned on the well, reports to The New York Times,
and it has asked BP to send a third. Together, they could recover about 38,000 barrels of oil daily. But BP plans to replace all three with a new system in July with the capacity to collect 50,000 barrels a day, according to the article.
On Tuesday, BP announced that any money made from the sale of oil captured from the well and from skimming operations will go into a new wildlife fund, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Boom near Port Fourchon. Photo by Kim Hubbard/Audubon Magazine
Strategies to Protect Beaches and Marshes
Even at the spill’s beginning, you probably saw dozens of pictures of containment booms—those floating PVC fabric blimps, linked like sausages and used to keep oil from reaching marshes. Problem is, boom is hard to manage on this big of a scale, reports Greenwire in The New York Times ,
noting that “They are easily shifted by wind and waves, and sometimes become unmoored and float away, or break apart.” Plus, there’s not enough boom available to do the job. Oil has already coated 140 miles of Louisiana coast, has appeared on land belonging to Alabama and Mississippi, and is encroaching upon Florida’s panhandle.
More recently, Louisisana officials decided to employ another strategy: “6-foot-high sand berms on the seaward side of barrier islands fringing the delta to protect sensitive shorelines, fish nurseries and other wildlife habitat further inland,” according to Greenwire. Throughout May, however, federal agencies—including the EPA—cited concerns about the berms’ effectiveness:
Among the problems cited by one or more of those agencies: that the emergency berms would take several months to build, by which time a lot of oil would have hit the coast; that dredging up the sand to build the berms could intensify coastal erosion and rip apart undersea oil-and-gas pipelines; and that the berms, by changing the flow of water, could alter the water's salinity, potentially hurting fish.
In response, Louisiana officials changed some of the areas where they proposed to dredge the sand for the emergency berms, nixing areas that federal officials called particularly ecologically sensitive.
The sand will come from several areas “’a good distance away,’ from the construction sites to lessen the environmental impact,” said Pete Serio, chief of the regulatory branch of the Army Corps of Engineers' New Orleans division, in the Greenwire article. Dredging on approved berms—about 40 miles' worth—will probably start this weekend. Still, completing them could take months, and there’s worry that, should they soak up oil once they're completed, less clean sand will be available for future restoration projects. Further, oil will still continue slinking its way to land anyway, despite both booms and berms.