BP oil spill likely to pass the Lakeview Gusher as the worst ever

An oil derrick spewing a gusher of crude high into the sky

The Lakeview Gusher of 1910 is currently the worst U.S. oil spill in history, a title seriously threatened by the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico 2010. Wikipedia photo.

The Lakeview Gusher of 1910 is in the news a century later thanks to the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico 2010. As the BP oil spill gushes for the 50th straight day, its sheer volume of toxic pollution is drawing comparisons to the Lakeview Gusher, a California calamity known as the worst oil spill in U.S. history 100 years ago. Back in the present, an oil spill cap, shown on the oil spill live feed appears to be capturing only a fraction of the BP gusher as tens of thousands of barrels a day continue to spew into the sea. Meanwhile, scientists have located huge underwater plumes of oil thousands of feet below the surface.

The Lakeview Gusher disaster

The Lakeview Gusher was an oil well blow-out disaster that started in March 1910 near Maricopa, Calif. The Pasadena Star-News reports that the Lakeview Gusher lasted 18 months and spilled 9 million barrels of oil — 378 million gallons. The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico 2010 may have dumped up to 122 million gallons in 50 days. Some experts believe that figure to be much higher. The Lakeview Gusher blowout flowed at about 48,000 barrels a day. Estimates of the BP oil spill run as high as 72,000 barrels, or 3 million gallons a day.

Rivers and lakes of oil

The Lakeview Gusher, although a huge disaster, is designated as the most productive single oil well in California. Initial flow from the gusher was 18,800 barrels a day. Peak flow was estimated at 90,000 barrels a day. A river of crude oil running downhill from the well site formed a 60-acre lake of oil. So much oil was recovered from the lake that William Rintoul in his book, “Drilling Through Time,” said it drove down the price of oil in 1910.

Oil spill live feed evidence

The oil spill cap, BP’s latest effort to control the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico 2010, appears on the oil spill live feed (see below) to be overwhelmed by the raging gusher coming from the ruptured well. MSNBC reports that scientists are skeptical of BP’s claim that the oil spill cap is capturing the vast majority of oil. On Tuesday, BP said the oil spill cap siphoned 14,800 barrels of oil the previous day. Ira Leifer, a member of the Flow Rate Technical Group, a national panel of scientists and engineers charged with determining the spill size, told MSNBC that BP’s decision last week to sever the well’s damaged riser pipe in order to install the oil spill cap has increased the flow by far more than the 20 percent BP and government officials had predicted. Leifer said the well may be gushing as much as 100,000 barrels a day.

BP oil spill underwater plumes

Deep in the gulf, underwater plumes have been traced by scientists who told the New York Times the infusion of oil and gas threatening marine life is unprecedented in human history. The Times reports that Researchers on a two-week cruise traced an underwater oil plume 15 miles wide, three miles long and about 600 feet thick. The plume’s core is 1,100 to 1,300 meters below the surface. Bacteria breaking down the oil are consuming oxygen from the water in a “massive, microorganism feeding frenzy” that threatens to smother most marine life.

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