AP’s Running Counter Brings Oil Spill Home

By: Shawn Moynihan

The Associated Press, which thus far has been at the forefront in coverage of the BP Gulf oil spill, has just released a multimedia tool that hammers home just how many gallons have been pumped into the ocean — and are still polluting the waters.

A Flash interactive called The Oil Spillmeter shows updated totals of how many days the oil has been pumping from the sea floor gusher, measured in a constantly updated total in both gallons and barrels. The estimated worth of the lost oil is also displayed, as well as the amount of gallons BP has managed to capture (a fraction of the total).

The Spillmeter also calculates the total spill in terms more common to the average person: It shows how many 12-oz. cans of soda and how many Olympic-size swimming pools can be filled by the largest offshore spill in U.S. history.

Ron Harris, a reporter/multimedia and video producer on AP’s South Desk in Atlanta, and Troy Thibodeaux, editor for newsroom innovation in the Washington, D.C. bureau, came up with the idea together, “knowing that we needed something for the spill that was more than just maps and photos, something that showed a live-time look at what was going on in the Gulf,” said Harris.

Harris and Thibodeaux wrote the underlying code that delivers the numbers to the Flash interactive, built by AP’s Dan Kempton, West Region multimedia editor in Phoenix.

The reporting of the actual gallons was handled by longtime AP science writer Seth Borenstein, in Washington D.C., who crunched the numbers. “He’s given us equivalents for everything from filling the Washington Monument to a soda can,” said Harris.

Thibodeaux and Harris worked over the phone for a few hours a day for about three weeks to produce the Ruby coding (typically used to build Web applications) that drives the data into the Flash interactive. The numbers displayed are an agreed-upon rate by the U.S. Government and BP at which the oil is spilling.

Should BP engineers become successful today in capping the leak, Harris says the Spillmeter will still remain in operation: “If they cap it and there’s no more oil spilling, we’ll redesign this. If they slow the leak, we can adjust it to keep the numbers accurate.”

“Our goal was to come up with an interesting and informative interactive reflecting the changes down there. That remains accurate no matter what happens on the sea floor,” he added.

South Region Multimedia Editor Peter Prengaman, who oversaw the project, pointed out the AP is putting out data-driven projects of this type on a regular basis. He cited the AP’s Stress Index, which measures economic stress across the country, as one example.

“It’s by no means a one-shot thing,” Harris agreed. “We’re always looking to add new layers to storytelling.”

Released Monday, the Spillmeter is available for use by AP members. The embed code is:

<div id=”oilspillmetercontent” align=”center”>
<script type=”text/javascript” src=”http://hosted.ap.org/specials/interactives/wdc/javascript/swfobject.js?SITE=[YOUR_SITE_ID <http://hosted.ap.org/specials/interactives/wdc/javascript/swfobject.js?SITE=%5BYOUR_SITE_ID> ]”></script>
<a href=”http://get.adobe.com/flashplayer/”><img src=”http://hosted.ap.org/specials/interactives/template_items/altContent.gif” border=”0″/></a>
<script type=”text/javascript”>
var so = new SWFObject(“http://hosted.ap.org/specials/interactives/_national/spillmeter/oilspillmeter.swf?SITE=[YOUR_SITE_ID <http://hosted.ap.org/specials/interactives/_national/spillmeter/oilspillmeter.swf?SITE=%5BYOUR_SITE_ID> ]”, “oilspillmeter”, “300”, “170”, “9”, “#FFFFFF”);

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