How bad is the oil spill in the Gulf?

Initial reports, from BP, indicated that 1,000-2,000 barrels were leaking per day from the well. That changed to 5,000 barrels based on new data from scientists in Seattle. Now there is evidence of oil gushing in the deep sea at a rate of 25,000 to 80,000 barrels of oil a day; that’s 3.4 million gallons a day! (See this article.) The Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska in 1989 leaked a TOTAL of about 11 million gallons (or 250,000 barrels). What’s going on in the gulf is far worse than Exxon Valdez, and I’m seriously concerned (and interested to learn more) about the potential worst case scenarios—does it include oil up the East Coast, and could an oil slick reach Western Europe? And what are the ecological impacts of large oil plumes at such deep depth? In terms of regulatory policy and permitting potentially dangerous activities, this event should force some new thinking on how to regulate and evaluate risk on activities that are thought to have low probability of failure/occurring, but have very high costs if failure/occurrence happens. Should American cost-benefit analysis undergo a significant make-over? Will and should European-style precautionary principles begin to gain traction in American public policy?

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