AP Photo/BP PLC
This image from video provided by BP PLC early this morning shows oil continuing to gush millions of gallons a day from the broken wellhead at the site of the Deepwater Horizon oil well in the Gulf of Mexico.
Today, again, Oil gushes into gulf following accident in containment effort, and BP's Deepwater Horizon "well is an uncapped geyser again," Joel Achenbach writes in the Washington Post.
Charles Wohlforth spent years covering the Exxon Valdez oil spill for the Anchorage Daily News, and writes about it in a new book, The Fate of Nature. In A Spill's Dirty Secret at Seed Magazine, he wrote in May,
Eventually I realized I had covered the wrong story. The important point wasn't that Exxon couldn't clean up its oil spill. The point was, no one could clean it up.
By telling the story of the company's incompetence, we had perpetuated the myth that real cleanup of a major oil spill is possible. We had left the industry free to say that next time, with proper preparation and equipment, they would be able to recover any spilled oil.
The truth is that when large amounts of oil go into the ocean, it's a huge success to recover as much as 10 percent. More than that is rarely possible. Oil spreads too rapidly and reacts too quickly with the environment; and the ocean is a challenging place to work, especially considering the logistics of speedily gathering up a blob the size of a small state.
His sobering assessment:
Oil spills are inevitable. Everyone makes mistakes. And when spills do happen, cleanup can't prevent environmental damage. That's the simple truth we need to be told about the BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico. For within that truth lies our fundamental decision: whether to value oil or the coastal environment. We'd like to have it otherwise. It feels better to blame the environmental costs of petroleum on greedy oil companies. And I think they are greedy--I'm not interested in giving them a break. But as a society we're not compelled to allow drilling that puts these precious places at risk. We could instead choose to not drill offshore, then let energy prices rise accordingly and switch to the alternative fuels that would become economically viable.
That choice is being made right now, not on the Gulf Coast, but in the Arctic. One of the largest oil companies in the world, Shell, is mobilizing to begin exploratory drilling off Alaska's Arctic Coast in less than 60 days. (This has since been postponed.)
If that work leads to a major spill, a cleanup will certainly fail--the chances of any degree of "success" are even worse in that remote, icy environment than in the Gulf. When it does fail, we shouldn't pillory hapless Shell responders for any dead walruses or polar bears. They would only be scapegoats for choices we are making now.
The walruses are likely to lose this fight, if not this year, next. For all of my adult life, alternative energy applications have been in the wings. Before we bleed out the earth, foul the oceans and kill the fishing industry and seafood supply, can we seriously begin to bring it to center stage?
Related: There's more on today's spill at The Oil Drum.