Here is a decidedly contrarian viewpoint, from University of Alabama Professor Dr. Roy Spencer.

Prof Spencer notes that the general commentary regarding the BP spill as “the worst environmental disaster in history” is wildly overblown. His graph below is designed to put this spill into perspective.

Now, before you wail that he is a global warming crank — he claims “global warming is mostly natural, and that the climate system is quite insensitive to humanity’s greenhouse gas emissions” — I have a serious question about the chart below. Is it true? Does it accurately portray the state of global oil spills?:



Assuming it is accurate, the chart itself is intriguing — and should touch off a broader discussion of Oil production and usage.

Note: I know I am going to get bombarded with emails about Spencer. Regardless of whether he is an industry hack, a science denialist, etc. (and he more or less is), I am referencing his data, not him. Unless you can demonstrate that the data underlying the chart is false, the rest of his background is irrelevant.

If his data is accurate, then the above is a fascinating chart . . .

Category: Contrary Indicators, Energy, Science, UnScience

Please use the comments to demonstrate your own ignorance, unfamiliarity with empirical data and lack of respect for scientific knowledge. Be sure to create straw men and argue against things I have neither said nor implied. If you could repeat previously discredited memes or steer the conversation into irrelevant, off topic discussions, it would be appreciated. Lastly, kindly forgo all civility in your discourse . . . you are, after all, anonymous.

77 Responses to “How Bad is BP Deepwater Horizon?”

  1. Thor says:

    I have it on good authority that the Earth will be just fine – thankyouverymuch!

  2. odds says:

    I don’t know about the first two columns, and no one knows for certain the last, but the third IXTOC, the fourth Cadiz and the sixth Valdez are correct.

  3. lehunter says:

    The Horizon spill isn’t the worst in history yet, but it has the potential to get there. Wikipedia has the data, that puts it in context. Spencer is being cagey by combining a bunch of different spills in the Iraq war and average yearly columns. Also note that by any reasonable measure, the Iraq spills and Ixtoc-1 were both huge environmental disasters. Ixtoc-1 is a pretty good precedent for understanding Deepwater Horizon demonstrating that almost nothing about the technological response to spills has changed in 30 years.

  4. TexDenim says:

    The BP disaster has to be seen in the context of its location and the media coverage (including that underwater camera), the all-too-recent Katrina disaster, and Obama’s political promises. In that light, Spencer’s comments make a lot of sense. This has been hugely overblown and emotion has taken over. BP can probably pay for the cleanup with six months worth of net income. Given the huge equity downdraft, BP is probably an excellent buy.

  5. mcknz says:

    15K barrels/day is a pretty conservative starting point — sounds like best case scenario.

  6. dcsos says:

    Its accurate until JUN 1
    ita a low ball estimate version as with WKRG ALA’s current tally on June 4th,
    the height would equal the 50million line.
    Then if it goes two more months, it fits between the Largest, and Second Largest
    Equalling, the greatest economic disaster in the history of america.

  7. spencer says:

    AS desos points out, his Deepwater Horizon estimate assumes the leak was plugged a week ago.

  8. JSC says:

    Seems like most of the information is reflected in this piece from the nytimes:

    Goes back to 1969 to Santa Barbara spill

  9. The 1991-92 stuff I have a question about. I thought Saddam set a boatload of wells ablaze, so while I am sure stuff was spilled(or otherwise having oil ooze out on the desert floor), I thought a good deal of it went up in smoke, literally.

  10. lebowski007 says:

    what is crazy revelation to me is that the yearly industry average spill volume is 250M gallons! propose industry needs to offset the spillage with carbon credits. that way maybe some process improvement can be attained or the right price of oil leads to/accelerates a shift in usage behavior


    BR: That is what I was referring to that we need to have a serious debate about oil (not that I am giving up my cars!)

  11. Mannwich says:

    But it’s not over yet. Not until the fat oil spewing lady sings.

  12. James says:

    If his data is accurate, then the above is a fascinating chart . . .

    It’s a little more complicated than that, BR:

    a. The BP spill data is a matter of great debate, with some scientists arguing it’s much higher than the 15K barrels/day (which seems to be a median estimate from the May 27 government estimate).
    b. The economic/ecological AND political impact must be factored in . . . many geographically dispersed small spills over the course of a year or a very large spill with a small impact because of its location (think large Alaska volcano vs. the relatively small Eyjafjallajokull) may have a minor impact compared to BP’s spill

    And, incidentally, if that BP spill ends up on Florida or East coast beaches you haven’t seen anything yet.

  13. decius says:

    I hope predictions have been overblown but I think its too soon to tell. Its certainly worth looking at the impact of the Ixtoc and Gulf spills as precedents, but its also worth pointing out that gauging the impact of a oil spill is more complicated than simply comparing the amount of oil spilled. There are numerous other factors in play, including the distance of the spill from shore, the effect of currents on the total amount of impacted shoreline, the nature of the specific ecosystems in the impacted area and their relative fragility or resilience, as well as the impact of the spill on economic activity in the region, and the effectiveness of human efforts to contain the oil, to clean it up, or to otherwise mitigate it’s impact.

    If a worst case scenario unfolds which drags this oil all the way up the eastern seaboard the event may be totally unprecedented. See this video from the National Center for Atmospheric Research.

  14. GreenTom says:

    The numbers seam reasonable, with the caveats about Deepwater Horizion that others already mentioned. The comparision with “average yearly spills” is meaningless, as thats a sum of many small spills spread over space and time.

    More importantly, how bad a spill is is a function of many things–proximity to shore, dispersion, sensitivity of ecosystems, affected economic activity, etc. I think IXTOC-1 ended up not being as bad as the size indicates simply because currents drove most of the oil across ~1000mi of ocean before land fall, etc.

    “Worst environmental disaster in history” is overblown–it seems almost insulting to compare it to Chernobyl, Bhopal, the Great Smog of 1952, etc. “Worst oil spil in history”? Probably not, but we’ll have to wait and see what the impacts on the Gulf Coast are.

  15. Mannwich says:

    @James: It’s already started, I believe?

    And, remember, this all about perception, and add this to the list of disasters recently, I would argue that this emotion is more about the cumulative than anything.

  16. destor23 says:

    Barry, I suggest the data are accurate but lack context. $500 million spilled into an area of the Persian Gulf that was at the time a war zone and thus not a major commercial and livable area could well have much smaller impact that a tenth of that spilled in a place like the Gulf of Mexico where major industries and cities sit.

    You also have to consider the overall amount of life — reefs, oxygen creating algaes and the like. If I blow up an oil well in the Saudi desert doesn’t it have a greater environmental effect than if I blow up that same well in the Amazon? Not saying that’s an apt comparison just that the data can’t stand alone here.

  17. Mannwich says:

    Great point, destor23.

  18. Ned Baker says:

    A couple thoughts:

    1. The flow rate is very uncertain, so even if the flow stopped today, the quantity of spilled oil is also uncertain. I haven’t checked the data myself, but it would be interesting to compare this to Menzie Chinn’s graph here:

    2. The quantity of spilled oil is only part of the equation. Environmental impact also depends on the type of oil and the distance to vulnerable areas. I think I remember reading that Ixtoc 1 oil took 2 months to reach land, while the first oil from Deepwater Horizon took days. Time allows the oil to break down and become less toxic.

  19. James says:

    @James: It’s already started, I believe?

    See this:

    Now, I don’t know if BR has a beach in the Hamptons, but if he does and that great, orange slick slithers his way, he’ll be out building berms and not making data requests here. :)

  20. Pat Shuff says:

    Seafloor oil seep data ScienceDaily (May 18, 2009)

  21. NotQuiteSo says:

    I haven’t heard it referred to as “the worst environmental disaster in history,” as the professor sets up as a straw man, but I have heard it referred to as the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history. (See

    To win as “the worst environmental disaster in history” it would have to compete with the likes of Chernobyl, Bhopal, etc.

    Seems clear from the chart that, at least in terms of oil spilled, it is certainly the worst oil spill in US history.

  22. Mannwich says:

    That’s what I heard as well, NotQuiteSo. Was going to mention it but you beat me to it.

  23. ottnott says:

    Even assuming that the graphic could be modified to show relative environmental and economic impact, is there any value to proving that BP Deepwater Horizon isn’t “the worst environmental disaster in history”?

    It is the magnitude of the impact that matters, not the ranking.

  24. franklin411 says:

    IIRC, Saddam’s troops opened the umbilical lines that carry oil from onshore storage facilities to supertankers (which are too big to dock) out in the Gulf. So it wasn’t just oil runoff from onshore facilities. It was crude pumped directly into the water.

  25. decius says:

    @James: I think that is just a report about the computer model I linked. I don’t think that is actually happening yet. We got lucky due to some eddies that formed in the current, but if you are an east coast state government you should be organizing a response plan, because this is a nontrivial risk.

  26. wally says:

    Location, location, location.

  27. stateless says:

    15k bbl/day is only the lower bound estimate if you take a close look at the May 27th press release. Two of the teams were still working on their upper bound estimates.

  28. JamesR says:

    The guy has been a guest on Glenn Beck’s circus, what do you think?

  29. Jonathan says:

    Why do people give Dr. Spencer such a hard time just because his viewpoint on things is different? When I have heard what he has to say he does source where he is getting his facts to backup his claims. I have also seen very thought out theories he has proposed (with sourced facts to back them up) thrown out without a glance, just because of who he is.

    Barry you are right, if his facts are correct here (I have not checked to see if they are or not in this case), what you think about him has nothing to do with whether the data points are right or wrong. Data is what data is.

  30. msaroff says:

    I would also note that a more realistic number for the spill is 50K a day, which would put it ahead of the Amoco Cadiz.

  31. clove says:

    I don’t know if the yearly spillage from tankers/rigs is accurate. Even if it is, most of those spills are easily contained because the source of the spill is at sea level, and the environmental effect is limited. Because deepwater is so far below sea level and cannot be contained, this disaster is much worse than all the yearly spills.

  32. Moss says:

    The collateral damage is the big tail risk here.

  33. jlj says:

    wow, so the oil industry (?) admits to spilling on average 700,000 B a day. So much for conservation. The 250MMB works out to about 2 weeks of oil consumption in the US. Makes you wonder how much oil and gas is really putzed away.

    Would be interesting to see a dotted bar on top of the Horizon bar, showing how big the spill will be if it takes as long as it took to cap\stop the Ixtoc spill – 9-10 months.

  34. bman says:

    I don’t give a rats ass about Spencer, I want corporations responsible for their actions. If they have all the rights of an individual up to and including buying politicians, they should have the responsibility that goes with it.
    However corporations don’t eat shrimp or Mussels, they don’t have children to care for and family to attend to.
    So they can slide anywhere around the planet and do whatever the hell they want. It’s time we hold them accountable, it would be hard to throw a corporation in jail, but you can throw the people in charge in jail.
    We can also freeze and seize their assets. When the shareholders lose their investments because of safety violations you’ll find safety will become priority one.

    How to stop the leak? take the CEO out behind the equipment shed and shoot him. Promote the next in line. tell him he’s got a week to stop the leak. Rinse and repeat.

  35. trainreq says:

    This chart beautifully illustrates the difference between data/information and knowledge/understanding. This data is meaningless by itself. One can simply Google to find studies done on the damage to the Arabian Gulf and for other spills. As many have stated, context is important. Damage is still being quantified nearly 20 years after the Arabian Gulf release. It is likely that the same will be true in the GOM.

    We will not gain meaningful knowledge of the destruction in the GOM for many years.

  36. johnnywalker says:

    A fundamental weakness of the data is the inaccuracy of the estimation of the amount of oil leaking per day (bpd). The assumption of 15,000 bpd is probably too low. The Center for Public Integrity cites Coast Guard logs and estimates from early in the spill. On April 21, the CG estimated a flow rate of 8,000 bpd. They revised the estimate on 4/23, two days later, to a range of 64,000-110,000 bpd. The midpoint between 8,000 and 110,000 bpd is 59,000 bpd; at that rate, the spill moves up into fourth place on the graph.

    A second, obvious, flaw is the assumption that the spill ended in May 2010. Time will tell, although the current efforts have the potential to decrease flow.

    I also question the significance of ranking disasters like this. This spill will be a major environmental and economic disaster. Whether it ranks fourth or eighth or twentieth matters little to the wildlife and people impacted.

  37. James says:

    Whether it ranks fourth or eighth or twentieth matters little to the wildlife and people impacted.


  38. kurtwestphal says:

    the 15k/day barrel estimate is probably extremely low, Spencer is in the minority in climate research but his message here is well taken..
    industry models based on surface area (not underwater plumes range between say 12-19k/day and 26.5/day. other models including plumes are in the 30-70k/day… and a full blowout estimate considered 100-110k/day. So his estimate seems very conservative and bogus because the model misses the underwater plumes and probably will be found wrong.,

  39. Sarge says:


    I’m going to say this: why was it necessary to qualify your remarks about Dr. Spencer by calling him an industry hack and a “Science Denialist”? The man is a scientist and has published peer reviewed research. Just because the government funded hacks over at Real Climate call him names doesn’t make it so, especially considering the recent Climategate mess.


    BR: 1) He is a flat earther — Humans have zero impact? PUH-Leeze!

    I was anticipating a number of people trashing him, and I wanted to focus on the data, not him. So I disclosed up front what any Google search about him would reveal and get it out of the way.

  40. MileHigh says:

    I think previous posters have done a good job outlining the problems
    - The 15k BPD seems low to me. I have heard estimates from 5k to 110k.
    - Its unlikely that this is the worst environmental disaster ever. The dinosaurs got wiped out, that would probably top this….as would chernobyl.
    - What makes this disaster so terrible is that it happened very close to Katrina. I don’t think NOLA can survive both disasters, which is sad as its a unique gem in america.
    - We know very little about the undersea ecology at such depths in the ocean, so its difficult to gauge the impact to that area.
    - And who cares if its the worst? It sucks for the animals in the gulf and those people whose livelihood that depend on it.
    - I like whoever said we should hold corporations responsible for this. Its really unacceptable that corporations can do whatever they want with minimal repercussions. And its an endemic in america! Banks, Oil Companies, Medical companies can do whatever they want. Our gov’t is completely controlled by corporations and its unf******cking acceptable.

  41. DeDude says:

    I don’t think that the “disasterness” of a spill can or should be measured in gallons of oil. So right there he is on shaky scientific grounds (measuring an effect with a questionable parameter). The estimates for actual amount spilled in the current disaster are wildly different, so I doubt that he has sound scientific grounds for choosing the 15K barrels per day figure. Again a real scientist without an agenda would have indicated the highest and the lowest estimate to give you a range of realistic size. If he is uncertainty to make his argument against human causation of global warming, why is he not using uncertainty in his calculation of this? Are you sure he is a Professor? He is listed as a principal research scientist, and his scientific abilities doesn’t quite ring with the kind of rigor that normally is required to make it to the level of Professor. A search of faculty and staff at UAH site list him as “principal research scientist IV”. It sounds more like a staff than a faculty title.

  42. scharfy says:

    A couple of hurricanes to clean up the mess and you won’t even remember this bad boy. I’m loadin the boat with bp stock and bet on the us gov cozy love of big oil.

    Read up on how much Valdez cost exxon. See the 2006 ruling? Funny.

    6 times earnings right now boys! Plus heavy divs, they sell oil man. You think were gonna do anything more than tongue-lash bp?

    I’m buying this stock down to zero.

    Vice president Palin will help me out. (Relax a joke!)

  43. Darmah says:

    His figures for IXTOC 1 seem to be accurate. And IXTOC was eerily similar to Deepwater right down to the news reports and all the different crap they tried to stop it. The only difference appears to be depth — IXTOC was less than 200 feet under water.

    However it took 290 days to stop the IXTOC leak!

    We’re only on day 45 of the Deepwater disaster.

  44. herewegoagain says:

    The scientific data from a SCIENCE DENIALIST (BR’s phrase) is suspect until proven otherwise.

  45. jmay says:

    I heard on NPR that during normal functioning, the Deepwater Horizon well pumped 300,000 barrels a day, or 12 million gallons of oil. The very reason that they like drilling these deep offshore wells is that they are high pressure wells.

    Think of it this way. BP released an initial estimate of 5,000 barrels a day. In doing so they framed the conversation. They may not have had a viable plan to stop the leak, but they had a viable plan to frame the conversation. Now, the suggestion that the leak is 100,000 barrels a day seems outlandish.

    Ian McDonald, the professor of Oceanography at Florida State University, and Steve Wereley, professor of Mechanical Engineering at Purdue, examined the 30 second piece of video of the leak that was released by BP, and estimated that the leak was in the 60-70,000 barrels per day range. The low end of his estimate was 40,000 gallons a day.

  46. nemo says:

    “15K barrels/day is a pretty conservative starting point — sounds like best case scenario.”

    A very low-ball estimate. At least it’s higher than BP’s absurd 5K barrels per day estimate.

    At least two independent estimates by academic engineers with solid research credentials more realistically estimate the leak in the 50K to 100K barrels per day range. Spencer needs to multiply the height of his BP Deepwater column by a factor of 3 to 6.

    If it’s as much as 100K barrels per day, that puts BP Deepwater already past the 1979 IXTOC spill. That would already make BP Deepwater the worst single spill in history.

    And BP Deepwater is likely to go on for weeks or even months more. It could easily blow past Spencer’s column for global average yearly spills from rigs and tankers.

  47. DeDude says:

    I agree that all if this “worst in history” talk is hype that doesn’t hold in the real world (but it sells news). Its’ to bad that the news organizations have abandoned the facts in order to sell hype. But this guy is just as dishonest in the other direction (I guess trying to sell himself by under-hyping). He could have made a solid argument that the current disaster is unlikely to end with more oil spilled than the IXTOC-1 disaster (with its 10-30K barrels a day for 290 days into the gulf).

    Right now this spill is an environmental disaster, but not among the worst ever seen. It still has the potential to become among the worst, if they don’t get it plugged soon and/or if the hurricane season gives us a nasty surprise.

  48. rktbrkr says:

    -300, time to call PPT

  49. James says:

    I was anticipating a number of people trashing him, and I wanted to focus on the data, not him. So I disclosed up front what any Google search about him would reveal and get it out of the way.

    But the point is you can’t focus merely on the data – a matter of debate by itself. His claim is this, to quote you:

    “Prof Spencer notes that the general commentary regarding the BP spill as ‘the worst environmental disaster in history” is wildly overblown. His graph below is designed to put this spill into perspective.”

    That is, by only focusing on spill data – whatever that is – he’s missing other crucial parameters/issues, all discussed above.

  50. ashpelham2 says:

    As a University of Alabama alum, I can tell you that the idea that college professors have a far-too-general rep as being liberal. Maybe at Berkeley or at Cornell, but deep in the South, University level Doc’s are just as in bed with big oil as anyone in Washington. Hell, people like Daimler Benz and Exxon fund a huge amount of The University’s work in economics. My degree is in Accounting, so of course, I’m unbiased (Interject sarcasm).

    I’m not saying I disagree with the figures he’s producing, but we may not be able to compare the cost of those oil “spills” he is lumping together.

    Plus, the internet is going to kill us all, so why worry about a little oil in the water.

  51. impermanence says:

    Barry says:
    “If his data is accurate, then the above is a fascinating chart . . .”

    This notion begins to get down to the heart of the matter, i.e., the fact that one can not know the accuracy of most data put out for consumption, yet, how to interpret it.

    Of course, the ultimate obstacle being that reality can not be ascertained intellectually. It’s simply impossible.

    So, now you understand the human condition…and why it will NEVER change.

  52. Transor Z says:

    I wish Barry would let us upload our charts.

    In my own experience with leaks, which is extensive, several major disasters come to mind. In all cases, cost and political fallout were functions of location and proximity to population.

    The worst leak by volume expelled was House of Hibachi-1 in 1984. However, I was a bachelor and the leak was limited to my apartment. The toxicity did cause my dog to get up and move.

    The most costly was Dutch Oven-4 in 1989. I’m still paying alimony for that serious lapse in judgment. Oddly enough, the amount of the leak was a fraction of the Hibachi leak.

  53. Thor says:

    Tranzor – that’s some good stuff – thank you!

  54. Thor says:

    Thank you for the humor – to be a tad more clear :-)

  55. mgnagy says:

    +1 on the lack of context. Also, I contend that it is as much about operational definitions. Like “environmental disaster.” Someone mentioned the dino-slaying mass extinction. From an Earth perspective, I would have to disagree: The Earth was not wiped clean. Rather, I see it as a rather heavy handed re-org, with a different dominant species in the box on top.

    If we were willing to take the perspective of an environmental disaster being something that _can not_ be recovered from, then the worst US environmental disaster would be the clean-up of facilities that were once part of our nuclear weapons industry. In particular, Rocky Flats. Facilities can not be cleaned up, with an attempt laying waste to larger sections of the local environment. In the case of Rocky Flats, the only thing the Denver/Boulder area would be good for is a possible shooting location for a sequel to either (worst case) Damnation Alley or (best case) The Omega Man.

    To get back on the beam, and talk about the oil industry (and impediments to clean up), there is always Super Fund. Cleaning up after the oil & chemical industry down here in Texas alone would empty the fund, instead of allowing the money to flow Back East, as it was originally intended.

  56. Lordie, you are just hanging onto that worldview for dear life aren’t ya? You are too cute Barry… you might not realize it from your tower, but there is a real world out there – and it is incredibly fucking ugly right now.

    But enjoy your Wagyu beef and six-figure watches while they last.

  57. johnnywalker says:

    re: impermanence Says, “Of course, the ultimate obstacle being that reality can not be ascertained intellectually. It’s simply impossible.”

    Do you really mean that? Are you willing to discount 1,000+ years of scientific progress, including all of modern medicine?

  58. ezzie2010 says:

    (1) The chart is a bit misleading because it compares a disaster in progress with completed disasters. BP’s own end-August estimate for ending the spill means we’re only a third of the way through. You can make a rout in a football game look ok if you assume the game ended early in the second quarter. A “full game” at 15,000 barrels a day puts us at 85 million gallons lost.

    (2) The chart takes the most BP-friendly estimates possible as to the amount of flow. If you take the low third party estimate of 30,000 barrels per day for 135 days, you’re looking at 170M gallons – more than Ixtoc. If you take the median third party estimate (and BP’s worst case estimate) of around 60,000 barrels per day, you’re looking at 340M gallons spilled – much more than the “average” full year according to Spencer. And if you take the third party worst case scenario of 100,000 barrels per day, you get 567,000 – which is not only literally off the chart, but bigger than all the losses caused by Saddam Hussein’s intentional destruction combined.

    And this is assuming that BP caps the well in the time frame it says it will: 3.5 months. As someone else pointed out, Ixtoc took ten months (although they managed to reduce the spillage rate by two thirds over time, which my simple linear assumption doesn’t account for).

    (3) What years are used to make up the “average?” There has been a dramatic reduction in tanker spills since the 1970s, for instance. The median year in the 1995-2010 period has 90% less spillage than the median year in the 1970s. So you can skew the context by taking a long lookback period. (granted, this is a trade group).

  59. Mysticdog says:

    So we have:
    1) A total strawman argument that this is commonly regarded as “the worst environmental disaster ever”.
    2) A completely irrelevant chart to analyze the strawman argument (amount of spilled oil vs. effect of previous “environmental diasters”)
    3) Inaccurate data on the chart to intentionally lowball the release of oil from this disaster
    4) Adding the amounts of normal operations globally (and probably unprovably) to really skew the graph (He could also support “The bad health effects caused by smoking are so overblown; just look at how low mortality is compared to the number of people who die die globally every year” this way)

    Yep, just another day in the life of a “distinguished” scientist… I bet he has fascinating analyses on many things… lets give him a wider forum!

  60. wally says:

    “The scientific data from a SCIENCE DENIALIST (BR’s phrase) is suspect until proven otherwise.”

    ALL scientific work by ANY scientist must stand up for all time to critique. That’s the essence of science. If you don’t want that, you don’t call yourself a scientist.

  61. bsneath says:

    There is natural oil seepage in the GOM as well

  62. gordo365 says:

    Read with Tony Soprano accent ” It can only be “the worst environmental disaster ever” if it hits the Jersey Shore. You could have jillion barrels spill in Africa – but that can’t be the worst disaster because that place is already f’d up. Right?

  63. Jojo says:

    Plenty of ugly photo’s in the story below:
    June 4, 2010, 5:15 pm
    Putting a Face on the Gulf Oil Leak

    The oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico finally has a face.

    Or, rather, faces — at once primordially familiar and yet utterly strange under their new bronze patinas. As close-up photographs begin to appear that document the insult and injury done to coastal wildlife by the Deepwater Horizon leak, public pressure on the Obama administration and BP to stop the leak — stoked by an emotional response to such troubling images — will surely grow.


  64. jeg3 says:

    The wiki listed above seems about right, but their references may be off.
    Note that NYC has a bigger spill than Valdez, “Greenpoint, Brooklyn oil spill”, which means you do not want to go swimming in or drinking the water from the Newton Creek.

    Information about US spills:
    See the 2009 report:
    “Analysis of U.S. Oil Spillage”
    “Total petroleum industry spillage has decreased consistently over the last 40 years. Seventy-seven percent less oil is spilling since the 1970s and 54% less since the previous decade. The analyses in this report examine oil spillage and other oil inputs into U.S. waters from all angles – from the spills of greatest public concern, those from the oil industry’s tankers and offshore production platforms, to the spills attributable to public consumers.”

  65. jeg3 says:

    Any 2010 API spillage report will look FUGLY after Deepwater, and they had such nice decreases over the past few decades.

    You’ll notice that the Wiki site has the Iraq spill as the largest at .78 to 1.5 million tonnes, and Deepwater at .072 (9% to 5% of Iraq spill) to 0.6 million tonnes (77% to 40% of Iraq spill) and counting. Mr. Spencer has it barely registering, which I assume to mean he is using the likely inaccurate lowest estimate (BP numbers?) and I have Newton Creek bottled water to sell you.

  66. TakBak04 says:

    Reading all the Comments here…

    I have to agree with some. That Chart is just a capture for folks who don’t look at the HUMAN and WILDLIFE, Tourism, Livlihood DISASTER this Gulf Oil DISASTER could do to Florida’s East Coast AND…the Coast of the Carolinas!

    I agree with one poster who suggested if that GUNK was coming up the LI Sound and onto the shores of Hedge Funders in Greenwich and Barry’s “Hom Grounds” …..then maybe there would be some understanding of what the South East is worried about.


    This “Gulf Coast Gusher” with those “Three Stooges Involved in the Media Hype does to our country is DREADFUL.

    But.. “BUY “BP” on the DROP if you are that CRASS or you didn’t read BR’s BOOK or the OTHER BOOKS about Wall St. Swindlers and De-Regulation!

    Buy that “BP” …”POS” and RIDE IT if you are a TRADER! You can make money from the feckless policies of this Administration who is the Pocket of “Goldman Sachs” ALUMNI/ALUMNUS….and figure it will work out …just the way it did with BUSH II…

    No One will ever be held accountable…because they have LOYALTIES that go BEYOND the Club House and the REST… It’s Blood Brothers for Harvard Business School and “Internships” with Goldman that BUILDS THE BOND.

    As some character in the “Godfather Moview” way back said: “It’s about Business!”

    And, truly it is….

  67. Pam says:

    Spencer is comparing apples to oily oranges. The two disasters he charts as greater than Deepwater, are actually multiple disasters combined. So the greatest single disaster is still, by his own chart, Deepwater (and it ain’t over yet).

  68. seneca says:

    The May 4 NY Times reported: “…a senior BP executive conceded Tuesday that the ruptured oil well in the Gulf of Mexico could conceivably spill as much as 60,000 barrels a day of oil…”

    If you take that figure and assume the spill goes unchecked until a relief well is completed on, say, Sept 1, you get a spill totaling 335 million gallons*. For good measure, add several million more gallons of toxic chemical dispersant.

    *335,000,000 gallons = 60,000 barrels/day x 133 days x 42 gallons/barrel

  69. GerhardWMagnus says:

    Global climate change sceptics smear the integrity of climate scientists with impunity, but for some reason it’s considered taboo to ever question their motives. It’s no coincidence that Dr. Spencer is a “denier” as well as someone working as hard as anyone in BP public relations to minimize the impact of the Gulf spill. Conservatives — and yes, these people are always conservatives, although what they “conserve” beyond the value of their own assets remains a mystery — tend to believe that the Earth can automatically correct for any damage we do it, at least in the long run… when we’re all dead. But what about the next 20-50 years? Talk to anybody with these views long enough and you’ll hear some ridiculous fantasy about the future. Jesus will come riding in on a dinosaur to rapture the Saved and leave the Sinners to deal with our poisoned planet. Space aliens from an advanced civilization will rescue us from our folly — although why anyone from an advanced civilization would bother with this place is unclear. But don’t worry! Soon we’ll be mining that new element energerium from the dark side of the Moon as a source of cheap, clean energy. Something called “hydrogen” is just around the corner — can’t Steve Jobs make it his next project? And since science is only an elitist debating society we’ll just have to get Congress to repeal the First Law of Thermodynamics if we’re ever going to get something for nothing around here!

    The real thing these people are denying is a future in which they’ll have to drive less. As this is inconceivable to free and independent Americans (one person, one car is the same as one asshole, one bathroom to them) they’ll be denying there’s ever been a problem with their gasoline consumption right up to the day the wife turns that second car into a tank-sized flower planter in the back yard.

  70. Solitude says:

    1. Anyone who thinks this is an “ECONOMIC disaster” needs to be hanged from the neck till death.

    2. I cannot be bothered to look at the research of someone who thinks humans have played no role in global warming. After all, he was on Glenn Beck! Somebody revoke his doctorate.

    3. 15k bl/day! Is he nuts? More like 70k bl/day.

    4. Where is the full disclosure? Who sponsored this research?

    5. Exxon Mobil alone had almost half trillion dollar in revenues last year. 7 among the top 10 companies by revenue in 2009 are Oil and gas companies (wikipedia). Oil and gas industry has a revenue of $4trillion a year! Fight for clean energy is worse than one david against 4 trillion goliaths.

  71. formerlawyer says:

    I would note that the chemical dispersant that is being used is toxic – did the measurement of ecological and environmental damage in other spills take that into account?

  72. bitteroldcoot says:

    First off, I don’t recall ever hearing of Dr. Spencer, but then I don’t really watch mainstream TV anymore. But if this is an example of his work, then ok, I am appalled.

    1)Anyone who has experience with hazardous material knows the difference between acute and chronic exposure. You don’t mix the two types of data.

    So the second column of his graph (Average Yearly Spills Global) needs to be gone. That is an example of chronic exposure, not acute. A little at a time spread out all over the world, is not the same thing as a gushing oil well.

    And example of this is chlorinated water. If you live in an area where they chlorinate their water, you are being exposed to a toxic chemical every day (chronic exposure), but with no effect, because of the low level of exposure spread out over a long period of time. Chances are you have lived a longer happier life because of chlorinated water. On the other hand, if you drink a big glass full of chlorine bleach you will have trouble surviving (acute exposure). Chronic and acute are not the same.

    2)The type (location) of exposure is important. Even in the event of an acute exposure, all paths are not the same. Pour bleach on your foot and you may cure your Athlete’s foot. Snort it or drink it, and you are in serious trouble.

    So the first column of his graph needs to be gone. The Iraqi desert and northern Persian gulf are not equivalent to the Gulf of Mexico. Population density, currents, wildlife density and state of the ecosystem prior to exposure need to considered. If it is already dead, then killing it is not that big a deal.

    3)The event is not over, and he knows it may take 10 months to stop this, just like the Ixtoc oil spill. It was dishonest to not estimate the FINAL amount of this spill to use in the comparison.

    Quite frankly, this comes across as a deliberate attempt to mislead the public by misrepresenting and distorting the data.

    PS: Yes, I know most of these points have already been made. It just upsets me when subjects I know about are misrepresented.

    PPS: Barry, I have been reading your blog for years, but this is the first time you’ve posted something so annoying I got up the next morning, registered for your site and posted a comment. I read your postings for a dose of level headed sanity. Please don’t start quoting bad science.

  73. well, no to put, too fine, a point on it, though..

    wtf does “a science denialist”, actually, mean, in light of –

    exactly, whom?, is ‘denying’ the basic precepts of ‘Scientific Inquiry’?


    or, differently, the, mere, idea that Carbon Dioxide is a ‘dangerous pollutant’/ ‘existential Environmental Threat’ is, at the minimum, a threat to *Rational Minds, and, most verily, a Grand Hoax to keep you distracted, Ignorant, and, thereby, Poorer–in every facet of your Pursuits..

  74. WaltFrench says:

    If I read the chart correctly, a figure of 50K barrels/day (which is within the very wide range of estimates I’ve seen) would make this the second largest accidental spill ever by gallons (so far).

    Even more, it has happened in an area where so many other people’s livelihoods are impacted. It’s one thing for rocks to be covered with oil (as for Valdez); it’s another for the oil to kill off grasses that hold together islands that protect housing from storms’ tidal surges, etc. The economic loss to others, and the realization that we are being so sloppy as to inordinately risk lives, livelihoods and quality-of-life seems to justify an easy “worst-ever” designation.

    Some other commenters suggest that the TV cameras are part of the problem, but we will never know how much earlier accidents were just swept under the rug, causing loss of livelihood, suffering and death in those who didn’t realize the level of poisons in their seafoods, etc. Any reasonable comparison to past effects would account for the full costs that may have been under-reported in the past.

    I have yet to see estimates of how long the oil might poison the entire Gulf area. Especially with the dispersants having helped saturate the water with hydrocarbons, a very rough (non-scientific) estimate would suggest toxic contamination of sea life for a decade or more. (As fish or birds die, their remains re-enter the lower levels of the food chain.) I’m sure that we’ll see some ecological modeling that will help account for the full costs here.

    Finally, either BP was uniquely criminally negligent or else the entire oil industry will now have to upgrade their entire set of rigs with much more costly, perhaps cumbersome, safety features. In that sense, this incident has merely exposed that oil costs us much more than we realized.

  75. beaufou says:


    You are probably right,
    I saw protest today about “seizing BP’s assets” (although they own 63% of the rig) and Obama was not getting nickled and dimed.
    Truth is, this is going to court for a long time and once the hole is plugged, BP is going back up there.

    In 1977, the Amoco Cadiz caught in a storm off the coast of Brittany refused to be towed because headquarters in Chicago refused to waste time and money.
    The result was 200 miles of polluted coast line, Amoco finally paid in 1990.

    Buy BP douche-bags.

  76. Dave T says:

    I am disappointed that you would quote someone who is off by an order of magnitude on the Horizon spill. There is plenty of blame to go around. If you quote a liar, have some yourself.