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Visualize Tens of Millions of Gallons of Oil

Unless you’re a deep sea fishermen who has spent years trawling the waters of the Gulf of Mexico (and I’m guessing you’re not), it’s pretty hard to wrap your mind around the size of area affected by the BP blowout. As of today, June 25, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has closed about 78,000 square miles to fishing — or roughly one-third of federal waters in the gulf. According to the team at SkyTruth, the oil slick and oil sheen cover about 11,278 square miles and 18,473 square miles respectively.

Eleven thousand square miles is just a tad smaller than the total area of the state of Maryland. But that’s not especially helpful either, except in an intellectual, geography-buff sort of the way. The mind still rebels at the numbers.

Big thanks, then, to the folks behind the simple and elegant website, This handy little app, powered by Google maps, let’s you put in your hometown and then click on “Move the Spill” to get a visual of how much area the spill would cover if it were in your own backyard. I put in Oakland, CA, and within a second got to see that if BP’s Macondo well were centered on, say, Telegraph Avenue, the spill would stretch all the way from the Monterey-Salinas area, past Sacramento, and up into Lake Tahoe. Converting that into California drive-times, it would take you six or seven hours, traveling 70 miles an hour with no traffic, to cross the whole sheen.

For kicks I then put in my hometown, Phoenix, AZ. The spill would cover an area all the way from Flagstaff almost to Tucson.

Finally I get it: This is what tens of millions of gallons of oil looks like.

Visit If It Was My Home yourself — and spread the link.

Jason MarkJason Mark photo
Jason Mark is the Editor in Chief of SIERRA, the national magazine of the Sierra Club, and the author of Satellites in the High Country: Searching for the Wild in the Age of Man. From 2007 to 2015 he was the Editor of Earth Island Journal.

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