The cost of the BP Oil Spill

I’ve decided to take a moment and weigh in on this spill. There’s lot’s of talk about the financial cost of the spill, the environmental cost of the spill, and other factors. This short post will discuss the energy loss of the spill.

Renewable energy is becoming more and more available every day, with various levels of efficiency. One thing, however, is fixed. A barrel of crude oil contains roughly 6.1 Gigajoules of energy. (One calorie is approximately equal to four joules, for comparison). According to one source, that’s 12.5 man-years (one human, working 40 hours/week, 50 weeks/year for 12.5 years) per barrel of oil.

Estimates peg the leak in the Gulf of Mexico at between 12,000 and 100,000 barrels of oil per day. At the time of this writing, the leak had been going on for 44 days, so we’ll say that 1,100,000 barrels of oil (25,000/day) have been spilt. That means that 13,750,000 – yep, 14 million man-years have been wasted. That’s one year of work for the entire province of Ontario wiped off the face of the Earth. (Ontario’s GDP is almost $600B)

Of course, we have to take these numbers with a grain of salt. As noted in my source which calculated the 12.5 man-years per barrel of oil, we can’t expect humans to push transport trucks at 100kph. No matter how you cut it, there is a lot of energy being dispersed into the Gulf, and that is simply tragic.


I just remembered why I started writing this – the Canadian Government announced today that they’d be building 135 ships for the Coast Guard and Navy, which will create 75 million man-hours of work over the life-cycle of the ships. That estimate above, in hours, is 27.5B man hours, or 0.003% of the work thrown away in the spill.