The BP oil disaster in the Gulf may have passed a milestone yesterday, and it wasn't a good one. The oil spill likely became the largest ever in the Gulf of Mexico, eclipsing the previous Ixtoc I spill off Mexico's coast.
The Ixtoc disaster spanned 9 months, from June 3, 1979 to March 23, dumping 140 million gallons into the Gulf.
The highest estimate from the government flow rate team for the current BP spill is that 2.5 million gallons are spewing into the Gulf every day, which would put the total as high as 159 million gallons at this point. Even the lower-end government estimates would put the spill at 83 million gallons so far.
The disaster might now be the biggest in the Gulf, but it still doesn't qualify as the worst in world history. That was in Kuwait in 1991, when up to 520 million gallons were dumped when Iraqi forces opened the valves on an oil terminal to impede the advance of US troops.
The Gulf disaster still has plenty of time to set even more disgraceful records. It's expected to keep flowing for at least six more weeks until the relief wells are finished (most likely in mid-August). Incident commander Thad Allen, who officially retired from the US Coast Guard Admiral this week, said the government has directed BP to figure out how to capture up to 90 percent of the gusher by mid-July. But he was hesitant to give any more optimistic estimates of an actual date when they can stop the spill.
"I'm reluctant to tell you it will happen before the middle of August," Allen told reporters yesterday. "I would rather under promise and over deliver with you folks."
In any case, the tragedy is far from over.