This Is What a 90,000-Gallon Oil Spill Looks Like

by Ryan Schleeter

May 14, 2016

Earlier this week, almost 90,000 gallons of crude oil leaked into the Gulf of Mexico near Shell’s Brutus drilling platform. New photos taken today show that it’s not a pretty sight.

Shell Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico

Two days after it was initially reported, oil sits on the surface of the Gulf of Mexico after a Shell well leaked 88,200 gallons into the Gulf.

© Derick Hingle / Greenpeace

In the midst of a remarkable global wave of resistance to fossil fuels, we’ve received another stern reminder that it’s time to keep it in the ground.

Shell’s oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico this week — just 90 miles off the coast of Louisiana — is the largest since BP’s 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster, the effects of which are still resonating throughout the region.

Currently estimated at 88,200 gallons, the Shell spill is just shy of qualifying as a “major” spill under the Coast Guard’s classification system, but ask coastal communities in the Gulf and they’ll tell you the impacts of chronic exploitation by the fossil fuel industry are nothing to downplay.

Shell Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico

Response vessels continue skimming operations on May 14, 2016 to clean up oil from the spill.

Jonathan Henderson is a New Orleans native and the founder of Vanishing Earth, an environmental watchdog group documenting and exposing oil industry failures in the Gulf South. Since 2010, he’s taken hundreds of trips out into the Gulf, including earlier today to document the Shell spill.

“Nothing really prepares you to see spills of this size,” he said. “When you see this much oil out over the Gulf of Mexico, it’s startling. It looks the Gulf was punched in the face and has a black eye.”

Shell Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico

Shell says skimmers like the one pictured here will clean as much oil as they can from the surface of the water.

And that part about this not being a “major” spill? Jonathan has his doubts.

“The industry routinely grossly under reports the amount of oil leaked,” he said. “They have an economic incentive to do that, because they’re fined per barrel of oil released under the Clean Water Act. I don’t see how you can not call this a major oil spill. On Friday they estimated the size of sheen at two by 13 miles, and today it looked like it had spread from that.”

Shell Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico

A large slick of oil is visible on the surface of the water about 90 miles from the coast of Louisiana

The good news is that there is a clear way to stop spills like this one and protect our climate at the same time: keeping fossil fuels in the ground.

Tomorrow, activists and grassroots groups are rallying in front of the White House as part of Break Free DC, demanding that President Obama stop new offshore drilling in the Gulf, the Arctic, and the Atlantic.

Will you stand with them? Send a message to the president: it’s time to keep fossil fuels in the ground.

Ryan Schleeter

By Ryan Schleeter

Ryan Schleeter is an online content producer and editor of the Greenpeace USA blog. His writing has appeared in National Geographic, Grist, GreenBiz, EcoWatch, and more. Find him on Twitter @ryschlee.

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