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Oil Disaster 5X Worse Than Estimated, 'Churning Slick' Now the Size of Puerto Rico

The catastrophe continues, as Federal authorities have banned commercial and recreational fishing in a large stretch of water off four states.

The news keeps getting worse from the British Petroleum oil catastrophe in the Gulf. The UK Telegraph reports:

The view from space indicates that the oil may be leaking at a rate of 25,000 barrels a day, dwarfing the figure of 5,000 barrels that US officials and the British oil giant BP have used in recent days.

That would mean that some nine million gallons may already have escaped from the underwater well following the April 20 explosion that killed 11 rig workers. It suggests the disaster will almost certainly prove greater than the Exxon Valdez tanker spill off Alaska in 1989, which released 11 million gallons and was the worst previous spill at sea. ...

Even BP has acknowledged that the 5,000-barrels-a-day figure for the leak - already a five-fold increase on the 1,000 barrels that it initially gave - is only a "guesstimate". The Coastguard has also said that that leak rate could turn out to be much greater than 5,000 barrels.

The implications of the higher figures for the fishing waters, wildlife and beaches of the Gulf - and the residents whose livelihoods depend upon them - are potentially devastating.

John Amos, director of SkyTruth, a satellite data monitoring outfit that supplies analysis to environmental groups, told The Sunday Telegraph that the images and information made public by BP indicated that the slick was made up of at least six million gallons of oil.

"That is a conservative estimate and it would mean that oil is leaking at a rate of 20,000 barrels a day," he said. "That's a real eye-opener. And I believe the true figure is significantly higher."

Meanwhile, the Associated Press reports that the slick has reached major island size, and that commercial fishing has been halted:

Crews have had little success stemming the flow from the ruptured well on the sea floor off Louisiana or removing oil from the surface by skimming it, burning it or dispersing it with chemicals. The churning slick of dense, rust-colored oil is now roughly the size of Puerto Rico.

Federal authorities banned commercial and recreational fishing in a large stretch of water off four states, from the mouth of the Mississippi River off Louisiana to western parts of the Florida Panhandle.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said the closure would last for at least 10 days and was aimed at keeping seafood safe. Government scientists were taking samples from waters near the spill to determine whether there is any danger.

Long tendrils of oil sheen made their way into South Pass, a major channel through the salt marshes of Louisiana's southeastern bootheel that is a breeding ground for crab, oysters, shrimp, redfish and other seafood. ...

"It's like a slow version of Katrina," he added. "My kids will be talking about the effect of this when they're my age."

Riki Ott, a community activist and expert on the Exxon Valdez oil spill writes that the true amount of the oil spill may be far, far higher than British petroleum's estimates, and there's a lot of money at stake in determining the true volume: " Sadly, it’s a foregone conclusion that BP’s promise to “do everything we can” to minimize the spill’s impact and stop the oil still hemorrhaging from the well nearly one mile under the sea off Louisiana’s coast will fade as its attention turns to minimizing its liability, including damaged public relations. BP will likely leverage the billions of dollars it will spend on the cleanup to reduce its fines and lawsuit expenses, despite later recouping a large portion of the cleanup cost from insurers or writing it off as a business expense as Exxon did."