At the moment, the cap that BP placed over the leaking oil pipe 5,000 feet under the Gulf of Mexico is capturing oil at an estimated rate of 1,000
gallons barrels a day. That's only a small portion of the estimated 20,000 gallons barrels that are currently ejected from the earth each day — but the current rate was selected deliberately. Vents are letting most of the oil escape in order to prevent too much water from creeping into the tube and interfering with the transfer of the oil up to waiting ships on the surface. Those vents are scheduled to be closed later today. "Progress is being made," said Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen, who is overseeing the federal side of the disaster response. But, he added, in view of all that's gone wrong before, “I think we have to caution against over-optimism here.” Once the vents are closed, we'll know better how firm the seal is between the cap and the sheared pipe, and whether that seal will keep out enough cold water to allow a smooth transferal of oil to the surface.
The below video has been floating around the Internet since yesterday. It depicts one potential model of how the oil could escape the Gulf and how it would affect the American coast near the Gulf Stream. It was produced by the National Center for Atmospheric Research and comes with a number of caveats. ("The simulations are not a forecast because it is impossible to accurately predict the precise location of the oil weeks or months from now. Instead, the simulations provide an envelope of possible scenarios for the oil dispersal.") Still, it's chilling to see how far and fast the oil could spread, and we're already chilled enough by what it's done so far.