Government and BP estimates of the amount of oil spewing into the Gulf of Mexico are too low, say scientists. Some equate the flow to one Exxon Valdez spill every five days.
As crude oil pours into the Gulf of Mexico from a drill-rig blowout nearly a mile beneath the sea surface, the frustration at the slow pace of mitigation efforts is palpable – from the president of the United States to marine scientists trying to gauge the true scope of the problem and its likely short and long-term effects.
Up to now, no one has had to deal with a spill this large at this depth – some 5,000 feet below the surface. The blow-out occurred April 20, its explosion and fire killing 11 workers and sinking the Deepwater Horizon, the drilling platform for an exploratory well some 40 miles off the Louisiana coast.
Moreover, the complexities of the ocean environment the oil is entering make efforts to project the plume's spread difficult, Dr. Mariano says. And the broader effects of using hundreds of thousands of gallons of chemical dispersants – some of which are being applied deep undersea at the wellhead – are unclear.