When BP's chief executive, Tony Hayward, said in May that the Gulf oil spill was a drop in the ocean – "tiny in relation to the total water volume", he was pilloried by Barack Obama and the US press, but he was technically correct. In the 85 days of the leak, the worst oil disaster in history, nearly 184m gallons of crude oil is estimated to have gushed into the Gulf of Mexico, the ninth largest body of water in the world. That is a lot, but no more than Americans burn every five hours and 10 minutes. Indeed, in the 24 hours since BP temporarily capped the Deepwater blowout, Americans have used over 840m gallons in their cars, planes, kitchens and factories which will have soiled the air, land and sea. The US can now look back on the Deepwater spill and count itself ecologically lucky, in many ways. It was not just a mile deep, allowing much of the oil to be diffused in the ocean, but it was 50 miles offshore in a warm sea. Many other oil spills have been far more injurious to wildlife and the marine and terrestrial environments, because oil breaks down much more slowly in cool seas. The 11m gallons spilt from the Exxon Valdez in the Alaskan waters in 1989 still threaten the whole ecosystem. That spill killed at least 36,000 sea birds. So far, Friends of the Earth US reported today, only 1,387 birds, 444 sea turtles, and 53 mammals have been found dead in the Gulf.