How Big Is the Gulf Oil Leak?

The size of the Gulf Oil leak increases every day, as do estimates of how quickly the oil is escaping into the sea. At this point, any statistics about the scale of the leak have grown so incomprehensibly large that they blunt any visceral understanding about the magnitude of the disaster.

Assuming the leak rate of 95,000 barrels of oil a day that Steve Wereley, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at Purdue University, calculated in his May 19 testimony before Congress, here are some of comparisons of the Deepwater Horizon leak to objects of more relatable dimensions: 

  • In just one day, the oil leaked would be enough to fill up six Olympic-sized swimming pools .
  • At the 95,000-barrel rate, the leak is releasing enough oil to fill Cowboys Stadium in 195 days, according to the Dallas Cowboys.
  • After 52 days, the leak will have released enough crude oil that, had it been refined into gasoline, could power a 2010 Toyota Corolla on a drive from Earth to the Moon, and back, seven times, according to Toyota. And a Toyota Prius, which gets 48 miles per gallon, could drive around the Earth almost 186 times.
  • The area of the Gulf of Mexico that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has closed off to fishing is approximately the size of the state of Utah, according to NOAA.
  • As of day 49, the cleanup effort has cost 1.5 times as much money as the movie “Avatar” grossed in the United States, according to Box Office Mojo numbers. That’s also as much money as a new B-2 stealth bomber, according to BP. Credit Suisse, a Swiss financial services company, estimated that the leak could cost BP up to $37 billion, or enough for the Yankees to pay for Alex Rodriguez, the highest salaried player in baseball, 139 times.
  • 17,500 people are officially responding to the leak, equal to the population of Bristol, Virginia, the “Birthplace of Country Music.”
Stuart Fox currently researches and develops physical and digital exhibit experiences at the Science Liberty Center. His news writing includes the likes of several Purch sites, including Live Science and Live Science's Life's Little Mysteries.