Deepwater Disaster Chance for Rethinking Our Priorities on the Environment

May 17, 2010

The Story so Far:

                Today’s world is energy obsessed.  Part and parcel with our obsession is the continual chase to secure new sources of fuel for an ever thirsty world.  Recently one such attempt has ended in environmental catastrophe. We can all guess as to what I’m talking about; the failure of BP’s (British Petroleum) off-shore oil rig, the Deepwater Horizon. 

                The failure of the Deepwater Horizon has lead to the spilling of massive amounts of oil.  Though not the biggest slick in history, or even of its kind, if the spill is not soon brought under control it could quickly grow into one of the largest environmental disasters in history.  Currently the Deepwater Horizon has an estimated spill rate of 210,000 gallons per day.  This means that during the initial two weeks of this spill alone, approximately 2.9 million gallons of oil have already found their way into the Gulf of Mexico.

                As judged from a historical perspective the Deepwater Horizon spill is still far from the largest.  As Time Magazine reports the largest spill in world history is the result of a similar deep water drilling accident.  Ixtoc I spilled a staggering 140 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico in 1979.   By way of comparison what is perhaps the most publicised spill in North America, The Exxon Valdez spilled only a paltry 10.9 million gallons of oil.

                Given BP’s timeline on being able to drill a relief well (with current estimates of 3 months) it would seem inevitable that the Deepwater Horizon spill will soon come to pass the numbers put out by the Exxon Valdez.  However efforts to contain the spill have been meeting with some limited success.  CBC News is reporting the successful installation of a riser system, which is designed to divert much of the spewing oil into a pipe for direct transport to the surface.  This measure has been a moderate success diverting fully 42,000 gallons of oil to barges on the surface, reducing the spill-rate to an estimated 168,000 gallons of oil per day.

                Unfortunately any success that has been made will be overshadowed by the extensive environmental damage that the spill is already beginning to bring into effect. The E.P.A. (Environmental Protection Agency) of the U.S. reports that The Exxon Valdez spill affected over 700 miles of Alaskan shoreline and was directly responsible for the deaths of at least 36,000 migratory birds as well as decimating seal breeding habitats.  Though the Exxon Valdez spill was admittedly much larger than the Deepwater Horizon spill there is currently nothing to suggest that this modern spill will not quickly grow to eclipse the former in both magnitude and in the attendant environmental devastation.

                Given the Deepwater Horizon’s spill still has the capacity for its total size to continue growing in scope and the spills location near the, now notorious, loop-current, the amount of U.S. coastline and coastal waters in danger of being contaminated is unprecedented.  Efforts to contain and clean up the spill once the tap has finally been shut off will be both labour intensive and expensive and as such it is unsurprising that people are already demanding that BP get out its chequebook.  In the attempt to cut off the very obvious negative publicity that an environmental disaster such as this is bound to create amongst a now all to environmentally aware public BP has accepted to foot the bill for the all its legal liabilities relating to the fall out of cleanup.    

Ah Yes… The Plus Side:

                Though we are today presented with a horrendous environmental accident the spill itself may represent a chance for the environmental movement to reset itself and get back to its core priority of eliminating pollution.  Until quite recently environmentalists the world over have had their attentions held by the passing fad of climate change.  With the recent allegations surrounding fraud within the global climate-change science community (the scandal, so predictably, monikered as climategate) fresh on many people’s minds, maybe it’s time for the environmental movement to get firmly back to its roots.

                At heart the environmental movement once stood for the reduction and hopeful elimination of pollution.  We have forgotten in all the worries spent about carbon emissions that CO2 is not in itself inherently dangerous nor is it a pollutant; unfortunately the chemical dispersants being used to clean up the very spill that is polluting the Gulf Coast most certainly are.  This spill merely stands in highlight as the most current and publicized of many such chemical spills or hazards to the environment. Be it the thoroughly polluted waters of the Yangtze River in China to the Great Lakes here closer to home industrial contamination of the environment remains the most pressing problem facing the world in the near future.  Climates will change, and no matter the inconvenience such change brings humans will be capable of adapting to it.  However one thing humans can handle no more readily than any other species is a polluted and contaminated environment.

                If the environmental movement is truly serious about tackling threats to the environment then there could be no better new poster child for them than the Deepwater Horizon disaster.  It is pollution that is the number one thing that industry must come to terms with and begin to properly tackle and it’s on that front that the environmentalists must again move their considerable media muscle.  If the movement goes in this direction it is possible that the real problems facing our environment may come to be tackled and that means securing clean water, land, and air for future generations.


Time Magazine, May 17th 2010 “The Big Spill”- Bryan Walsh

CBC News,



One Response to “Deepwater Disaster Chance for Rethinking Our Priorities on the Environment”

  1. Jen Ganshorn said

    go TIM!!

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