May 1, 2010

Gulf oil spill triples in size

ENVIRONMENT - According to satellite imagery the surface area of a catastrophic Gulf of Mexico oil spill has quickly tripled in size in a single day. Experts now fear that the slick could become vastly more devastating than originally predicted.

This spells disaster for fishermen and the shrimp industry as the ecological effects on the industry will last for decades and may never recover.

Meanwhile there is a growing scandal surrounding BP (British Petroleum) because of documents that show the oil company deliberately downplayed the possibility of any accidents on its offshore oil rigs.

It also suggests the ruptured oil rig is spilling far more oil than originally estimated. The United States Coast Guard has estimated that about 200,000 gallons of oil are spilling out every day, but even that estimate might be a low ball. BP had originally suggested it would only be approx. 5,000 gallons / day and this new higher estimate by the Coast Guard suggests that BP was either being overly optimistic or lying through its teeth.

If the Coast Guard's estimate is reasonable accurate it would mean 1.6 million gallons of oil have spilled since the April 20th.

A day ago the oil slick was 1,150 square miles (roughly the size of Rhode Island)... now its over three times that size: 3,850 square miles.

The thickness of the oil slick is anyone's guess.

One expert also cautioned that if the spill continues growing unchecked, sea currents could suck the sheen down past the Florida Keys and then up the Eastern Seaboard, which would devastate the fishery and lobster industries.

"This disaster is going to cost the U.S. economy billions in lost revenue," said one analyst.

The environmental effects are another key worry. 84% of the USA's coral reefs are in Florida and hundreds of marine species are at stake. Experts say if the oil slick reaches the coral reefs we could be on the verge of localized mass extinction as the local ecology collapses.

“If it gets into the Keys, that would be devastating,” says Duke University biologist Larry Crowder.

The oil slick is now more than 130 miles long and 70 miles wide and threatens hundreds of species of wildlife, including birds, dolphins, fish, shrimp, oysters and crabs that make the Gulf Coast America's most abundant source of food, even more than agriculture.

The explosion was caused by oil services contractor Halliburton Inc. improperly capping the well. CEO David J. Lesar denies his employees improperly capped the well. No doubt this will hurt former Halliburton CEO Dick Cheney's stocks as there is already 24 lawsuits that have been filed in the wake of the oil rig explosion.

British Petroleum is being forced to pay for the cleanup costs, but the coming lawsuits will no doubt spread the burden to Halliburton.

The 1989 grounding of the Exxon Valdez off Alaska, for example, cost Exxon Mobil more than $4.3 billion (U.S.), including compensatory payments, cleanup costs, settlements and fines.

Since the Gulf Coast is more environmentally rich the clean costs this time could be in the range of $10 to $30 billion.

There is no word yet on how and when the oil leak will be capped properly.

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