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Time Tracking the Oil Spill – Day 100

Over the last 100 days there has been debate about the amount of oil spilling into the Gulf of Mexico. Early on, BP reported an estimate of 5,000 barrels per day. Later, they admitted to maybe 40,000. Now they have reported a max of 100,000 barrels per day.

With the vastly varying estimates, it is difficult to trust their numbers so, in May, NPR had scientists use proven methods to determine how much oil is actually spilling out of the broken pipe. They estimated between 56,000 to 84,000 barrels per day. That sounds like a lot of oil, right? How much is it really?

Time Tracking Puts it in Perspective

Here at we think of everything in terms of time tracking. That’s our livelihood and we’re obsessed with it. Tracking hours helps us draw conclusions based on real-life data. It helps us be more efficient and better understand our world. There is a great sense of empowerment when we see how long things take to get done, or how long other things have been in progress. So, for 100 days or 2400 hours, BP’s mistake has been making a big impact on a small part of our earth – an impact which will take thousands of man hours to get us back to some semblance of the way things were.

Breaking it Down

To get a feel for how much oil has been lost, let’s consider an individual’s oil usage. You might drive a car 10 or 12 hours a week if you’re a commuter, maybe take a plane once or twice a year (which would, in all reality, be flying with or without you). Not only do you need oil to cart you around town, but oil is used in the making of all your stuff. You probably use more oil than you think. It’s used in detergents, cosmetics, plastics, playgrounds, insulation – the list goes on. Nevertheless, for one person it’s not much in comparison to the oil lost in this great disaster. According to the US Energy Information Administration, Americans use about 3 gallons of oil per day when the data was collected in 2003. There are 42 gallons of oil per barrel, so you see that it would take an American two weeks to use up a barrel of oil. It would take you a year to go through 26 barrels of oil. If 6,500,000 barrels – the mid range of NPR’s estimate – have been lost so far, then 250,000 people would have to be martyrs for the cause for one year to make up for the loss. But considering that none of us could really manage to use no oil at all unless we stripped down to our toes and headed to the hills, all we could reasonably do is cut our consumption maybe by a quarter. So about a million of us would have to give up our cars or modern lifestyles to get us back on track with the loss of oil so far.

And That’s Not All

Many more people and many more hours (quite a few years actually says Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen) will have to be devoted to cleaning up the gulf and the 120 miles of affected coastline. It will take many months of round the clock work just to clean the waters and coastline, plus several years in habitat restoration. Clearly, the clock is ticking and there’s no room for wasting time, which is exactly what time tracking helps us pinpoint and eliminate. There’s work to do and thousands of people will have to devote thousands of hours to get the job done.

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