How’s That Oil Cleanup Coming Along?


Not that great, according to everyone. While one of the three holes in the Deepwater Horizon has been plugged, the rate of oil lost was unaffected. Depending on whom you ask, that’s anywhere from 5,000 to upwards of 40,000 barrels a day.

Also, hurricane season is less than a month away. The first storm of the season would not only arrest cleanup crews, but could potentially disperse the oil slick over a greater field. That is, if it doesn’t suck up all the oil and turn into some sort of self-aware, Captain-Planet-style, oil-powered storm beast.

More realistic fears include the possible failure of domed well caps currently being maneuvered into place over the leaks. BP has ordered a 125-ton steel dome to contain and remove the oil gushing from the rig, but even a successful placement won’t contain more than 85 percent of the leak. Oh, and there’s no guarantee of a successful placement.

At this point, more than two weeks out from the explosion/fire/complete destruction of the Deepwater Horizon, eleven workers are dead, fishing bans have been put into effect, and oil has begun to wash up on certain coastal marshes. A relief well, the best method of containing the underwater geyser, will not be ready for months. The Coast Guard has started several controlled burns on different parts of the slick. They’ve even deployed a team of deep-sea robots to attend to the leak. So far the only potential bright spot in this unmitigated disaster is the possibility of a knock-down, drag-out fight between the underwater robots and an oil-fueled hurricane.

While the most media-friendly parts of an oil spill (beached seals and turtles flapping their sludge-covered fins helplessly) haven’t yet occurred, serious damage to the environment is already being done. Plankton and other microscopic forms of marine life at the bottom of the sea are easily damaged by contact with oil particles, which could send a ripple effect throughout the Gulf’s food chain. The fishing industry will almost certainly continue to be negatively affected. The spill could spread to the East Coast via powerful ocean currents and even damage certain ports and shipping lines. The worst is almost certainly yet to come.

Image: NASA Goddard Photo and Video

Mallory Ortberg

Mallory resides in San Francisco, California. You can catch her weekly Sex By Numbers column.