BP Deepwater: Some Perspective

by Don Boudreaux on May 29, 2010

in Cleaned by Capitalism, Current Affairs, Risk and Safety, Seen and Unseen

Here’s a letter to the New York Times:

David Brooks’s list of those human cognitive limitations that arguably led to the BP Deepwater oil spill is useful (“Drilling For Certainty,” May 28).  This list, however, contains one item that seems mistaken – namely, the claim that “people tend to spread good news and hide bad news.”

Some good news is that, using government-scientists’ maximum estimate of the amount of oil spilled daily (25,000 barrels) into the Gulf of Mexico from BP Deepwater, this spill today ranks as only the ninth largest accidental oil spill in world history.  To become the largest accidental oil spill in world history, it would have to continue spilling unabated, at this maximum-estimated rate of spillage, for another 94 days.  (Using the mid-range estimate of daily spillage – 18,500 barrels daily – BP Deepwater would have to spill unabated for another six days [as of May 29] even to break into the top ten, and then another 134 days beyond that to become the world’s largest accidental spill.) Yet how frequently is news of this fact, which gives necessary context, spread by the mainstream media?

Even better news is the declining frequency of major oil spills.  Some evidence of this healthy trend is the fact that the average time that elapsed between each of history’s top ten accidental oil spills prior to BP Deepwater was 26 months.  But the amount of time between the most recent of these top-ten spills (which occurred in September 1994) and the BP Deepwater spill is 187 months.  How many Americans today hear of this happy trend?*

Donald J. Boudreaux

* According to the most recently revised estimates of oil spillage (estimates released on May 27 and used in my letter), government scientists now believe that between 12,000 and 25,000 barrels of oil were spilled daily from BP Deepwater.  (There are 42 gallons in a barrel, so, converted into gallons, the estimates now are that the daily spill size from BP Deepwater is between 504,000 gallons and 1,050,000 gallons.)  Some reports emphasize that the ‘best’ estimated range of daily spillage from BP Deepwater is between 12,000 and 19,000 barrels daily.

I got the size and dates of history’s largest oil spills here.

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