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PHOTOS: Sizing up the BP oil slick

After an attempt to cap the leaking oil well in the Gulf of Mexico proved unsuccessful this weekend, officials are scrambling to come up with another solution to stop the hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil that flood our coastal waters each day.

But whether it’s a product of mounting public pressure or an actually valid plan, BP’s latest solution is guaranteed to raise some eyebrows.

Using a method known as "junk shot," BP plans to clog the pipe with large quantities of plastic and rubber trash items, such as tires and golf balls. Has this ever been done before? Yes, in fact, unlike the dome method, oil companies have plugged leaks using the "junk shot" method before.

But has it ever been done at a depth of 5,000 ft? No, and scientists are warning that employing such a method in a situation ‘beyond experience’ could actually make things worse, causing crews to lose control of the well and spill even more of its contents into the Gulf.

I came across this Google Maps mashup that takes the Gulf slick and allows you to compare its size with different places or landmarks in the world. I tried a couple just to put the size of the slick in perspective, and imagine a) how bad things are now and b) how bad things could potentially become.

1. The Slick

This is a close up of the slick where it presently sits, just outside the Mississippi Delta.

2. Long Island

I live in New York, so I wanted to bring the slick closer to home in order try and really understand the size of this mess. To my surprise, I found the spill to be larger than Long Island.

3. San Fransisco

That got me thinking about other cities, like San Fransisco. I wanted to see how far the spill would stretch between locales, as well as compared to some land marks like the San Fransisco bay.

4. Crawford, TX


Then, for kicks, there’s Crawford, TX, home to the infamous Bush family ranch– which some might call a landmark, too. Here’s what the spill would look like if the Deepwater Horizon was sitting in Bush’s backyard.

5. The Grand Canyon

But the most obvious landmark in the US in terms of size would be the Grand Canyon (highlighted roughly in yellow).

6. Israel

Finally, I started thinking about the slick compared to the size of other countries; I thought this comparison, showing the slick to be about a third the size of Israel, was particularly striking.

Nevermind the fact, for a moment, that we’re having a serious conversation about pumping tons of high-pressured garbage into a pipe a mile below the surface of the ocean– that idea alone may strike you as you please.

More importantly, the huge consequences that belie this quirky plan are what leaves us with an unfortunate catch-22: Do we use a practically unproven method to quickly staunch the flow of oil into the Gulf, despite the fact that failure could mean an even greater catastrophe? Or do we spend precious time trying to formulate a better idea, while the the slick continues to grow and begins to make landfall in some of our most fragile coastal areas?

I personally don’t know the answer. It could be naivete on the subject of offshore drilling that leads me to believe every idea for stopping the leaks so far has seemed far-fetched. From talk of actually nuking the seabed to setting the ocean on fire, I wouldn’t be all that surprised if BP advocated duct tape next.

But either way, before we judge future risks, we should consider our present disaster.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the Gulf crisis and BP’s newest plan to use the "junk shot" method; please share your thoughts (and even your own comparison images) in the comments!

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Brian Sonenstein

Brian Sonenstein

Publishing Editor at Shadowproof and columnist at Prison Protest.