Rising through 5000 feet of water, the oil is going through a process that the oil men call Fractioning. Literally the tremendous pressure and temperature issue are the equivalent of taking the oil and boiling it in a cracking tower 5000 feet high. The oil and Natural Gas change on their way up. The very light, easy-to-evaporate parts are all that is rising to the surface. [...] Because of this fractioning, what you see from the air on the surface of the water represents maybe just 20% of the volume of the various types of oil in that area. And we're talking an area the size of Maryland (10,000+ square miles) that is on the surface. The remaining 80% is under the surface; and all of it is highly toxic to the living organisms encountered. [...]
Having just seen (as I write) the film of the larger of the two leaks under sea, I can say with my trained eye that the volume coming out of the hole is in the order of 4 barrels per second (around 350,000 barrels per day). As you look at this, it might seem like a small hole, and a small amount of oil. But bear in mind that the diameter of the pipe is 5 feet!
This is not a system in stasis. This is an out of control volcano of oil spewing up with 70,000 psi behind it, from a reservoir nearly the size of the Gulf, with an estimated trillions of barrels of oil and gas tucked away. What we are seeing now could be small compared to what may yet unfold if things break apart, as they can do under such circumstances. If this thing blew, it could be like the Yellowstone Caldera, except from below a mile of sea, with a 1/4-mile opening, with up to 150,000 psi of oil and natural gas behind it.
That would be an extinction event.
In less than three weeks, a new, unpredictable and potentially ruinous variable will be added to that field when hurricane season officially begins June 1. Texas Tech's Kendall puts it plainly: "If a hurricane rolls up the gulf, we'll be sweeping oil out of downtown New Orleans."
[...] "If we get a storm surge -- it doesn't have to be a hurricane -- this oil is going to go over the marsh and go way inland. Once it gets up into Shell Beach on Lake Borgne, we're done."