A Seventh of the Superdome?

The AP has a story on the size of the BP oil spill.Apparently, it’s not really that much.

Sure, there will be some environmental damage, and there will be years of clean up. But if it all could fit in the Superdome, that tells us something:

Overwhelmed and saddened by the gargantuan size of the Gulf oil spill?

A little mathematical context to the spill size can put the environmental catastrophe in perspective. Viewing it through some lenses, it isn’t that huge. The Mississippi River pours as much water into the Gulf of Mexico in 38 seconds as the BP oil leak has done in two months.

On a more human scale, the spill seems more daunting. Take the average-sized living room. The amount of oil spilled would fill 9,200 of them.

Since the BP oil rig exploded on April 20, about 126.3 million gallons of oil has gushed into the Gulf. That calculation is based on the higher end of the government’s range of barrels leaked per day and the oil company BP’s calculations for the amount of oil siphoned off as of Monday morning. Using the more optimistic end of calculations, the total spill figure is just shy of 68 million gallons.

For this by-the-numbers exercise, The Associated Press is using the higher figure.

For every gallon of oil that BP’s well has gushed into the Gulf of Mexico, there is more than 5 billion gallons of water already in it. And the mighty Mississippi adds another billion gallons every five minuminutes or so, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

So BP chief executive officer Tony Hayward was factually correct last month when he said the spill was “relatively tiny” compared to what he mischaracterized as a “very big ocean.”

More not-so-dreadful context: The amount of oil spilled so far could only fill the cavernous New Orleans Superdome about one-seventh of the way up. On the other hand, it could fill 15 Washington Monuments and two-thirds of the way up a 16th. If the oil were poured on a football field — complete with endzones — it would measure nearly 100 yards high.

Now, that is still a big spill. But it is not a catastrophe.

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