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Tuesday
Jun152010

Putting the Deepwater Horizon spill into perspective. It's not time to set your hair on fire just yet.

No need to feel like this has never occurred before--it has.

Human nature being what it is, there is a tendency to feel that the circumstance one is in is unique, that what may be happening is happening for the first time ever, and that, say, something terrible has never occurred quite like this before!  My sense is that this is true as it pertains to the BP's Deepwater Horizon oil spill.  

Because this is an event of such grand proportions in terms of it's effect on the natural world we value, because so many people will lose their livelihoods, because BP's reputation and health as a productive petroleum company is being threatened--it is useful to put the catastrophe in perspective.  

Do your own poll and see what others around you say.

So yesterday I decided to do a little research on the perception and the reality of oil spills.  First, I checked the history of oil spills and then I set out to see what others "knew" about oil disasters in history.  I was curious to learn how others around me were putting the issues of environmental damage, company reputation, and loss to humans in perspective.  

To get an idea of that, I conducted a mini-, one-man poll--meaning that it was small, non-random, and non-scientific; specifically I asked 20 people I ran into in the course of my activities at the office one question; I asked simply:  Is the Deepwater Horizons oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico the worst oil spill ever? 

Ninety-five percent were wrong about Deepwater Horizons.

Here's what those 20 people told me:  19 said that it was the worst oil spill in history, only one said he wasn't sure, but didn't think so.  This set of responses was eye-opening--it told me that potentially most of the people around me were putting what's occurring in the Gulf of Mexico in epic proportions.  

When I checked the history of oil spills, I was able to put what is happening in the Gulf in some perspective.  First of all, to date there's been an estimated leakage of 1.6 million barrels, or 67.2 million gallons in the BP accident.  The largest oil spill ever occurred in what is called the Arabian Gulf Spill when the Iraqi army destroyed tankers, oil terminals, and the oil wells in Kuwait, leading to the release of almost a billion barrels of oil, or 3.8 billion gallons.  That's enormous; however, it occurred largely on land, which sets is apart from the current Deepwater Horizon spill for difficulties associated with containment. 

This happened before, 30 years ago--two miles underwater!

The second largest oil spill did happen in an ocean [curiously enough in the Gulf of Mexico as well--I guess that's were the oil is!] at the two-mile deep exploratory well, Ixtoc I on June 3, 1979 in the Bay of Campeche off Cuidad del Carmen, Mexico.  By the time the well had been brought under control in March of 1980--nine months later--an estimated  3.3 million barrels, or 140 million gallons of oil had spilled into the bay.  

So at this point the Deepwater Horizons spill is about half of that--however, the end is not in sight, so time will tell if it ranks as third--behind the Pemex [Mexico's nationalized oil company] disaster or will it rank second. 

There's no question the problem is a bad one.

I am bothered as much as anyone is by the damage that is occurring in the Gulf of Mexico.  Many--if not most people I meet--are very disenchanted [openly angry and hostile, are frequently better words] by BP for it's role in being the company on whose watch this happened.  Clearly the damage to sea life and nature is severe and will only be partially amenable to clean-up and repair, certainly in the short-term.  

Although what's happening is terrible, it's also part of what it takes to support a global dependence on the internal combustion engine.  And because of that, there aren't many choices, at least for the foreseeable future. It is not much, but it is some consolation to know that collectively we've been over this course before, albeit in other settings, in other places.  

But it's not time to set your hair on fire yet!

The reality is, we all will emerge on the other side of the problem, just like before--and, at some point, be back to a new normal.  Meanwhile, it's not time to go wobbly at the knees or wring our hands or stomp up-and-down and declare we should stop looking for fossil fuels.  That's not going to help and, frankly, neither is it a live option for us either. 

POST BLOG NOTE:  I wrote some brief comments on my keithmurrayONBIZ Facebook Page about this blog--which you can checkout as you are inclined, along with some other reflections on prior blogs and other other matters.  
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