Technology & Science

Oil leak could fill 9,200 living rooms

Overwhelmed and saddened by the size of the Gulf oil spill? A little mathematical context to the spill size can put the environmental catastrophe in perspective.

Overwhelmed and saddened by the gargantuan size of the Gulf oil spill?

A little mathematical context to the spill size can put the environmental catastrophe in perspective. Viewed through some lenses, it doesn't seem that huge. The Mississippi River pours as much water into the Gulf of Mexico in 38 seconds as the BP oil leak has done in two months.

But on a more human scale, the spill seems more daunting. Take the average-sized living room. The amount of oil spilled would fill 9,200 of them.

Less mighty than Mississippi

Since the BP rig exploded on April 20, about 125 million gallons of oil have gushed into the Gulf. That calculation is based on the higher end of the government's range of barrels leaked per day and BP's calculation of the amount of oil siphoned off. Using the more optimistic end of calculations, the total spill figure is just over 66 million gallons.

For this by-the-numbers exercise, The Associated Press is using the higher figure.

For every gallon of oil that BP's well has gushed into the Gulf of Mexico, more than five billion gallons of water are there already. And the mighty Mississippi adds another billion gallons every five minutes or so, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

So BP chief executive officer Tony Hayward was factually correct last month when he said the spill was "relatively tiny" compared to what he mischaracterized as a "very big ocean."

But another big number that Hayward provided on Thursday also offers some troubling news. He said the reservoir of oil under the sea that is the source for the leak is believed to hold about 2.1 billion gallons of oil.

That leaves about two billion gallons left to spew. So, there are about 17 gallons of oil underneath the sea floor yet to gush for every gallon that has already fouled the Gulf. If the problem were never fixed, that would mean another two years of gushing, based on the current flow rate.

More not-so-dreadful context: The amount of oil spilled so far could only fill the cavernous New Orleans Superdome about one-seventh of the way up. On the other hand, it could fill 15 Washington Monuments. If the oil were poured on a football field — complete with end zones — it would reach nearly 100 yards high.

Across ocean and back in milk jugs

If you put the oil in gallon milk jugs and lined them up, they would stretch about 10,800 miles. That's a round trip from the Gulf to London, BP's headquarters, and a side trip from New Orleans to Washington for Hayward to testify.

BP has spent more than $54.8 US million lobbying federal officials in Washington since 2000. That's about 44 cents for every gallon of oil it has spilled.

Since 2000, the oil and gas industry — along with its employees — has contributed $154.2 million US to candidates for federal office. That's $1.23 US for each gallon of oil spilled. Of that money, 78 per cent went to Republicans and the rest to Democrats.

Take the 125 million gallons of oil spilled in the Gulf and convert it to gasoline, which is what Americans mostly use it for. That produces 58 million gallons of gas — the amount American drivers burn every three hours and 41 minutes. It's enough to fill up the gas tanks in 3.6 million cars — more than those in Louisiana and Mississippi combined.

At $2.75 US a gallon for gas — the U.S. national average — that's nearly $160 million US worth spilled into the Gulf.

Want your own piece of this spill? If all the oil spilled were divided up and equal amounts given to every American, they would all get about four soda cans full of crude oil that no one really wants.