We now know the BP leak in the Gulf of Mexico is the worst oil spill in U.S. history, but it is still hard to understand its magnitude in everyday terms. Still, let's try. If the escaped crude had been distilled into gasoline (9 million gallons of gas) and pumped into a Honda Accord, and you started driving it continuously from Los Angeles to New York and back (you could make the round-trip 50,000 times), then:
If you hit the road when Columbus set sail for America in 1492 and never stopped — not even to use the restroom over that half a millennium — you would be running out of gas about now. And that's based on the government's low end estimate of how much oil has spilled (12,000 barrels a day).
If you use the high-end spill estimate (19,000 barrels a day), you had better refill the travel mug with coffee, because you will be on the road for 300 more years.
Footnotes and assumptions: A barrel of crude typically yields 20 gallons of gas (the rest becomes other petroleum products).
Google Maps says the driving distance between Los Angeles and New York City is 2,787 miles and the travel time is 1.85 days. A Honda Accord averages an EPA estimate of 31 mpg on the highway.
Times news researcher Shirl Kennedy contributed to this report.