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I've been covering the Gulf oil spill for more than six weeks. Recently, during a national U.S. television interview, I said "BP's Gulf oil spill is a global ecological disaster."
It was no exaggeration. Consider the following: Since April 20, a vast amount of oil has bled into the Gulf of Mexico. According to BP, it's about 750,000 litres a day; researchers at Florida State University estimated about five weeks ago it was at least 3.8 million litres a day; and even more recently engineers from Purdue University estimated it's probably closer to 9.5 million litres a day.
The ominous plumes of oil venting from this pipe at the equivalent of 152 atmospheric pressures -- one mile beneath the surface -- are behaving unlike any other oil spill ever observed before. That is, oil is rising to the surface but in some cases is sinking, just how deep, so far, remains unclear.
Allowing the plumes to naturally disperse has many consequences. Microbes that eat oil require oxygen and they suck it out of the sea, creating oxygen-depletion zones. Crude that washes onshore is deleterious to all life, so thousands of miles of boom have been deployed to prevent it from landing.
In an attempt to break up these massive slicks of oil, BP has used more than 5.3 million litres of Corexit oil dispersant, more than 285,000 litres near the leak site. Dispersant has never been subjected to trials deep in the ocean before.