Something big needs to happen ASAP, that's for sure. Check out this piece from Alan Caruba, "BP and the Unmitigated Disaster":
Suffice it to say that everything that could go wrong following the Deepwater Horizon explosion has gone wrong. The oil industry has never been faced with an engineering failure of this magnitude.But see Steven F. Hayward, at Weekly Standard, "How to Think About Oil Spills The Perils of Overreaction."
For the creatures of the Gulf, it is an ecological disaster of biblical proportions. For the coastal states affected, it is an economic disaster that will rapidly eat through the $20 billion BP has pledged to set aside for remediation over the next five years. The losses to the nation as a whole are probably incalculable at this point.
Even if the Deepwater Horizon spill lasts into the fall, it will still not even be the largest offshore spill in the Gulf of Mexico. That dubious achievement belongs to the Ixtoc 1, a Mexican platform near Yucatán that blew out in 1979 in circumstances similar to the Deepwater Horizon (the blowout preventer failed after a gas surge from the well). It took Mexico’s famously inept Pemex almost 10 months to stop the leak, by which time 460,000 tons of oil had leaked—still the largest accidental spill in world history (Saddam Hussein deliberately fouled the Persian Gulf at the end of the first Gulf War with 1.2 million tons).HAT TIP: Reaganite Republican gave me the idea for this post.
The Ixtoc 1 spill started in June 1979. Oil began washing up on 125 miles of Texas coastline by early August. It is estimated that only 4,000 tons of oil made it to U.S. shores, which was about 1 percent of the total amount of oil spilled. About 30,000 tons was estimated to have reached Mexican shorelines. Pemex, by the way, refused to pay damages to the United States, citing sovereign immunity—an important contrast to the stance taken in the Deepwater spill by BP, which is assuming full responsibility (as it should).
The ecological effects of the Ixtoc 1 disaster should be borne in mind when we hear claims that the Deepwater spill will inflict large and long-lasting effects. According to a 1981 study by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, about half of the Ixtoc 1 oil evaporated, and another 25 percent sank to the bottom of the ocean, much of it broken up by wave action and chemical dispersants. The Swedish Academy study estimated that oil from the Ixtoc 1 poisoned a 5,800 square mile area, devastating crab, shrimp, and fish stocks, and leading to large oxygen-killing plankton blooms. Overall fish landings fell by up to 70 percent in Mexican and Texan coastal waters. On the other hand, the 5,800 square mile area represented about 2.5 percent of Mexican Gulf Coast waters. Finally and most ironically, Hurricane Frederick struck the Texas coast in September 1979, and washed away 95 percent of the oil that had reached shoreline beaches and marshes. The current fears of the effects of tropical storms and hurricanes in the midst of the Deepwater spill might be misplaced.
It will be some time before we have a precise idea of the nature and extent of environmental damage from the Deepwater spill. It should be borne in mind, however, that ocean ecosystems tend to have faster recovery times than ecosystems on land, owing to the area available for the dilution and dispersal of the oil droplets, the constant aerating turbulence of ocean waters, and the ease of repopulation from adjacent areas once the anoxia (lack of oxygen) has passed.