WEBCommentary Editor

Author: Bob Webster
Date:  May 23, 2010

Topic category:  Other/General

Keeping the Gulf Oil Disaster in Perspective

There is at least one very scary scenario circulating in email that might lead a reader to believe the planet is doomed because of the oil disaster in the Gulf. A little perspective calms any fears.

I received an email today that made these claims (edited for brevity):

An engineer of considerable experience says watch this carefully:


Well, let's put this 200,000 gallons of oil per day into perspective.

First, oil floats on water (it is less dense than water).

Second, just how much oil does this represent with respect to the size of oceans?

Consider this analysis:

Oceans are very big. All oceans combined have a surface area of about 130,000,000 square miles. So, how long would it take to cover the surface of all the oceans with oil from this disaster in the Gulf?

Well, to answer that, we must first decide on how thick a coating of oil we want to consider. Let's assume that oil is very bad to float on the ocean (never mind that whales and other sea creatures have a very high amount of oil in their bodies). Suppose it is so bad that we don't want to tolerate a depth of even one micron (one-millionth of a meter). Just how long would it take at 200,000 gallons per day to create a one micron thick layer of oil over all the planet's oceans?

One gallon is 0.134 cubic feet. So 200,000 gallons per day amounts to 26,800 cubic feet per day. Converting that to inches, 200,000 gallons of oil per day is 46,310,400 cubic inches of oil per day. That is the same as having a one inch deep layer of oil covering 46,310,400 square inches of ocean.

There are 25,400 microns in an inch. So a one micron depth would cover 25,400 times as much area as a one inch depth. Therefore, a one micron depth of oil would cover 1,176,284,160,000 square inches every day that 200,000 gallons of oil gushes into the Gulf. Sounds like a lot, doesn't it?

Let's put it in perspective.

Just one square mile of ocean surface has 4,014,489,600 square inches of surface. So in one day, if the oil were spread over a one micron depth it would cover 293 square miles.

Still sound like a lot?

Total surface area of all oceans combined is about 130,000,000 square miles. That means at 200,000 gallons per day, it would take 443,686 days to spread a coating of oil just one micron thick over the surface of all the oceans.

Accounting for leap years, it would take 1,215 years to cover the oceans of our planet with just one-millionth of a meter depth of oil being produced at 200,000 gallons per day!

So, you see, things aren't always as they might appear at first glance.

Is the oil a problem? Locally, yes. But it will never begin to approach a planetary scale problem.

Of bigger concern is how many people will be frightened by the kind of email quackery that claimed our planet was in peril from this spill?

As with most things in life, perspective is everything.

Bob Webster
WEBCommentary (Editor, Publisher)

Biography - Bob Webster

Author of "Looking Out the Window", an evidence-based examination of the "climate change" issue, Bob Webster, is a 12th-generation descendent of both the Darte family (Connecticut, 1630s) and the Webster family (Massachusetts, 1630s). He is a descendant of Daniel Webster's father, Revolutionary War patriot Ebenezer Webster, who served with General Washington. Bob has always had a strong interest in early American history, our Constitution, U.S. politics, and law. Politically he is a constitutional republican with objectivist and libertarian roots. He has faith in the ultimate triumph of truth and reason over deception and emotion. He is a strong believer in our Constitution as written and views the abandonment of constitutional restraint by the regressive Progressive movement as a great danger to our Republic. His favorite novel is Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand and believes it should be required reading for all high school students so they can appreciate the cost of tolerating the growth of unconstitutional crushingly powerful central government. He strongly believes, as our Constitution enshrines, that the interests of the individual should be held superior to the interests of the state.

A lifelong interest in meteorology and climatology spurred his strong interest in science. Bob earned his degree in Mathematics at Virginia Tech, graduating in 1964.

Copyright 2010 by Bob Webster
All Rights Reserved.

© 2004-2010 by WEBCommentary(tm), All Rights Reserved