Understanding the problem
The spill continued for almost three months until it was finally contained. Over that time, oil on the water’s surface had spread far from the original wellhead across an area the size of the state of Oklahoma.
While it was happening, no one knew how long it would take to stop the spill, how deeply the spreading oil reached below the surface, and how much oil was actually spilling.
To see how the oil spread over the 3 month spill watch the visual presentation by the Times-Picayune newspaper (requires Adobe Flash).
Early on in the spill, the US Coast Guard – the federal agency in charge of working with BP to clean up the spill – estimated that 1,000 barrels of oil (42,000 gallons) were leaking from the blown out well each day.
In those first few weeks, journalists informing the public of the dangers and the causes of the spill relied on announcements from the Coast Guard and BP in their news stories. But no one knew for sure whether the levels were true, just how much cleanup would be required, or what lessons oil companies, the government, and the public should learn about the dangers posed by drilling in deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico.