Gulf Oil Spill 2010: America's Chernobyl

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96 Responses to “Gulf Oil Spill 2010: America's Chernobyl”

  1. lewis stoole says:

    i second that motion. and may i make the motion to amend that the ceo’s name also be attached as they are rarely, if ever, held accountable for the bad actions of the corporation. the “2010 bp/hayward gulf oil gusher of doom” (note: it is not a spill)

  2. imipak says:

    @publanski, 07:53: the significance is that dozens of people died at Chernobyl, including a bunch of extraordinarily heroic people who knowingly went on suicide missions into the burning reactor to help prevent the liquid, supercritical core melting down through the containment floor to the sub-building cooling pond. (This would have made a very, very large bang and lead to much more dangerous levels of fallout.) There are still parts of the UK where farmers are paid compensation because they can’t graze livestock on land where Chernobyl fallout rained out.

    This oil spill is certainly a catastrophe, and the Exxon Valdez seems like a reasonable benchmark for the order-of-magnitude of the effect. (There are lots of differences of course – the Valdez was a one-time point event, effectively, whilst this looks like it’ll be running for weeks if not months; the Valdez was in a narrow enclosed waterway, whilst his is 70 miles or so offshore; the difference in latitude makes a difference, as will currents, water temperature profiles, local wildlife populations, and of course the clean-up response.) It’s certainly Very Bad News, but the coastline will recover in time.

    • iopha says:

      “The significance is that dozens of people died at Chernobyl…”

      From the relevant wiki page:

      On 20 April 2010, a fatal explosion on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig operating in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Louisiana resulted in a huge fire, the sinking of the rig, and a massive oil spill that is currently discharging an estimated 5,000 barrels (210,000 US gal) to 25,000 barrels (1,100,000 US gal) of crude oil daily.[1] Eleven workers died in the explosion and 17 were injured.

      Not that comparing loss of life establishes significance somehow. I don’t know if Chernobyl comparisons are inapt, so I don’t take issue with your post, just wanted to point out the deaths.

      The ecologies in the exclusion zone around the reactor are doing pretty well, which just goes to show that humans have a worse impact on the environment than nuclear meltdowns.

  3. arborman says:

    Ian’s just giving us a preview of the Corpublican spin to come.

    We don’t have to go back 80 years for inappropriate juxtapositions or wanton hyperbole. Smoking guns and mushroom clouds and all that.

  4. SKR says:

    You guys are off he deep end comparing this to chernobyl.

    • octopussoup says:

      This is such an exaggeration . Chernobyl is still affecting stuff this spill wont be in 5 years

      • Anonymous says:

        Then why is the exxon valdez spill still not cleaned up? you people who think we can just use the ocean as a giant toilet bowl and it will just recover need to do your homework, it is not recovering it is in serious decline. Maybe if people like you stopped paying attention to which celebrity is doing which celebrity and paid attention to the real news we would not be where we are today. Turn off the FOX! Or at the very least if you don’t know what you are talking about, don’t talk!

      • Marcel says:

        Every minute this spill goes on, it becomes less and less an exaggeration.

        This is not an oil tanker with a hole in it.

        This is an oil field with three holes in it.

        And one that’s a mile deep.

        There is no oversight over the magnitude of this disaster, but there is an awareness that it is growing.

        And it will most certainly have long term repercussions on the local economy and the environment.

        I’d rather see someone exaggerating the gravity of this disaster than downplay its importance.

        • bja009 says:

          Never let a crisis go to waste, eh?

        • Teller says:

          “I’d rather see someone exaggerating the gravity of this disaster than downplay its importance.”

          Knowingly or unwittingly, you have summarized our times perfectly.

      • Anonymous says:

        The oil won’t be cleaned in 5 years. Instead what will happen is that people will convince themselves that the dirty coastline is just natural and that this is the way things always have been. The same incremental acceptance that has been happening for 100 years since industrialization.

    • Mark Frauenfelder says:

      What do people on the shallow end compare it to?

  5. danegeld says:

    Hopefully the oil will clean up within a year or two rather than having the place abandoned for decades as at Chernobyl, but this is a wake-up call about the dangers of off shore oil drilling, in the same way that Chernobyl sounded a death-knell of civilian nuclear power in Europe.

    The plan they’ve got to stem the flow of oil – essentially drop an inverted funnel over the point where the oil is leaking – sounds like it should work.

    It’s now looking pretty insane that BP didn’t have at such a funnel pre-built and able to be deployed, as a response to this kind of accident. It costs a few $mil. to build, whereas the liabilities they’re facing for having to wait a fortnight after the leak starts to build it are measured in $billion.

    • grimc says:

      If BP installed a remote shut off switch which would’ve only cost $500k, this disaster wouldn’t have been. But their negotiations with the Cheney administration got them out of having to put one in.

      • tote says:

        The $500k remote probably wouldn’t have made a difference at all. It would have used the same emergency backup system that failed to contain the well in the first place. These companies have been drilling hundreds possibly thousands of holes in the bottom of the ocean, they aren’t run by a bunch of idiots. If a $500k device would have prevented the problem it would have been on the BOP stack. Their engineers looked at the problem and decided that it wasn’t beneficial for it to be there because there were other redundant well control devices such as activation by an ROV which was attempted even while the rig was sinking. Any business person could easily see that $500k investment now is better than billions of dollars of liability later. You have to remember the environment that they are working in, they were drilling in about a mile deep of water. Every additional safety system that is added, adds another degree of complexity to the project and more complexity means more things to go wrong.

        • Anonymous says:

          So in effect your saying safety measures arent good because the add complexity. So it would be better to have no safety measures? Wow thanks for pointing that out.

        • Cowicide says:

          Every additional safety system that is added, adds another degree of complexity to the project and more complexity means more things to go wrong.

          Tote, you’re not even a decent apologist. Give it up. I don’t think even BP wants you on their side at this point. You are making no sense whatsoever and make assertions that are frankly full of shit.

        • grimc says:

          The underpinning of your reasoning–businesspeople would obviously spend money to do the right thing now in order to avert a possible disaster down the line–is not based in reality.

          • tote says:

            It’s not to “do the right thing”. It’s to save money. $Billions + Hate + Lawyers >> $500k.

          • grimc says:

            It doesn’t matter whether the disaster is the public’s or the corporation’s. Corporations are all about short-term profit. They could give less than two shits about worst-case scenarios. Look at Goldman Sachs and Massey Mining. They don’t even err on the side of caution when it’s their own business that’s at stake.

          • hungryjoe says:

            I think Tote’s most important point is that there is an emergency shut-off mechanism in place, and it failed. The president or taipan or whatever of BP was on NPR this morning, and you could hear the frustration in his voice when he talked about how that mechanism is currently unresponsive. Not that I feel bad for him.

            As Tote points out, any further failsafe mechanisms would have connected to and attempted to operate this valve. And they would have failed.

            I think these companies do a cost-benefit analysis, but that they trend toward more and more reckless behavior until something like this happens, and then they will make a very public show of new safeguards they are putting in place for their future endeavors. Then nothing will go wrong for a while and they will start behaving more and more recklessly. Lather, rinse, repeat.

            $500,000 is chump change to a company like BP. They probably lost more than that in oil alone the first day of this disaster. That doesn’t mean they wouldn’t have value-engineered something like that extra mechanism out of the schematics.

            Hell, for no more than a grand, Exxon could have installed a breathalyzer on the bridge of the Valdez. Think what that would have saved them. However, 20 years later it’s still not standard equipment on oil tankers. Where’s your outrage about that?

        • That Evening Sun says:

          “Any business person could easily see that $500k investment now is better than billions of dollars of liability later.”

          Oil companies don’t pay out liability settlements in the billions of dollars. Exxon will wind up paying less than $500 million because of the Valdez spill, if they ever pay it all.

  6. Anonymous says:

    This is beside the point, but why hasn’t anyone developed ships that can scoop up the oily water, separate it, and squirt the cleaned water back into the ocean while saving the oil? I think such a thing could be possible, right?

    • penguinchris says:

      In case anyone is wondering, ships that scoop up oil slicks do exist: see this for example.

      However, based on what wikipedia says it can do, such a large spill as this is probably way beyond the capabilities of even a large fleet of these ships – it’s a slow process.

  7. jpet says:

    It is a tragedy that the enviornment will be damaged by this oil spill.

    That said, however, all of you anti-energy people should realize that without oil, there will be no tourism – higher gas prices = less travel. Without oil, most of us who don’t live on the coast will not have have the chance to eat ocean seafood – less consumption = lower employment in the fishing industry. Plus, without gas-powered boats, how will the fishing industry operate while still catching the equantity it now does? Without coal and oil, scarce electricity will keep you fantasy-world-living folks off the Internet.

    Your rich, lefty group funding godfather, George Soros, has invested in Brazil’s oil development industry. Why – because the world needs fossil fuels and George Soros will do anything for a buck. Tragic, yes, but drilling for oil is a risk we must take for our survival. If you wish to live in a cave – free from dependence upon fossil fuel – be my guest. Leave your computer, iphone, automobile and TV behind and go live off the land. Just make sure to clean up the dead bodies of the birds that are crushed by your inefficient windmill – no one wants to look into the eyes of dead animals killed by human activity.

    Drill, baby, drill – oh, and Go Nuclear Power!

    • Ryanwoofs says:

      Of course, there are other ways besides all or nothing. Because some day, it really will be nothing, when oil is too expensive to get. What then?

      Also, having been around a number of windmills, large and small, I haven’t seen a single bird carcass.

    • Snig says:

      Dearest troll,
      It’s sad that you can’t conceive of living without oil. It’s possible you may be young enough to see it happen. We actually plan on rendering George Soros and using his tallow to power our steampunk computers, so we’re all set for the future, thanks for your concern.

      “That said, however, all of you anti-whaling people should realize that without whale oil, there will be no tourism – higher prices for ocean steamers = less travel. Without whale oil, most of us who don’t live on the coast will not have have the chance to eat ocean seafood – less consumption = lower employment in the fishing industry. Plus, without whaling boats, how will the fishing industry operate while still catching the quantity it now does? Without whale oil, there will be nothing to light lamps so you fantasy-world-living folks can keep reading books.”

      We can also burn the bodies of the dead birds. Especially pigeons, most of us on this site don’t like pigeons we decided.

  8. imipak says:

    It’s surely having a sobering effect on BP, and I’m sure on all the other offshore producers will be nervously eyeing their own contingency plans, insurance, etc. (BP are uninsured for this risk, and will be bearing all the costs — all the financial costs, anyway, including the inevitable swingeing legal actions to follow.

    Interestingly (to some of us) there’s a link to the CDO-driven bank implosions: risk management, or rather, the failure of RM processes to correctly price the probability of a catastrophic event.

    @danegeld:

    this is a wake-up call about the dangers of off shore oil drilling, in the same way that Chernobyl sounded a death-knell of civilian nuclear power in Europe.

    I disagree. It’s a wake-up call to petrochemical companies to reassess their insurance strategy, to the drilling engineers who designed the BOP and the rig, and there may be some long-term increase in environmental awareness. However Piper Alpha[1] didn’t stop North Sea production, Torrey Canyon[2] and the Amoco Cadiz[3] (which both had a devastating environmental impact over here) didn’t stop Milford Haven, Exxon Valdez didn’t stop Alaskan production and this won’t even stop deep-water production in the Gulf, let alone anywhere else.

    Note that the novel technical aspect of this well was that it’s in very deep water. North Sea rigs (and others on shallow continental shelf waters) are typically anchored to the sea bed which is only 100-200 feet deep. This is much deeper water, and there’s less industry experience with this type of operation. Drilling engineers are going to be very interested to find out what caused the initial explosion and fire, and why the blow-out preventer evidently failed. Somewhere, there’s at least one engineer who is never going to work again. And somewhere, family and friends of eleven men are mourning their deaths.

    [1] Piper Alpha: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Piper_Alpha
    [2] Torrey Canyon: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Torrey_Canyon;
    [3] Amoco Cadiz: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Torrey_Canyon

    • Anonymous says:

      An engineer who’ll never work again? Actually, there’s probably an engineer whose warnings were ignored. The people who make so many of the operational decisions at these companies are not engineers, or geologists, etc. but instead are guys who got degrees in business adminstration, management, marketing from places like Texas A&M or Arkansas and they got their jobs because they played football or something. They tend to be “goodolboys” in the worst possible sense. These “managers” – (regional exploration manager, regional production manager, or some such) take great pride in ignoring the advice of the technical “weenies” who tell them they shouldn’t do something. One of their favorite phrases is “were jest gonna take a bidness risk” in response to advice not to drill through a high pressure zone or not to attempt a dangerous completion until the proper blowout prevention equipment is on hand. If the tech guy – geophysicist, petroleum engineer, etc. persists in his warnings, he’s usually told something like “how bad do you wanna keep yore job, boy?”

    • Anonymous says:

      Great post. Horrifying to read about those disasters, we forget them at our peril.

  9. Anonymous says:

    FWIW, some context:

    “A new study released on the twenty-fourth anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster says the death toll is far higher than previously thought.

    In a book published by the New York Academy of Sciences, a Russian author and a Belarusian author say nearly one million people have died from exposure to radiation released by the Chernobyl reactor. According to the book, the disaster’s radioactive emissions may have been 200 times greater than the initial estimate of 50 million curies, and hundreds of times larger than the radioactivity from the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The authors based their findings in part on Slavic sources they say have never been available in English.”

    Source: http://www.democracynow.org/2010/4/27/headlines#6

  10. ADavies says:

    Interesting “worst case” analysis here…

    http://www.dailykos.com/storyonly/2010/5/2/862592/-Its-Worse-Than-You-Think

    The underlying point is that we don’t know if this is the worst case yet or not (though it is looking pretty bad). But the odds are that expanded drilling means expanding the risks.

  11. IL Denizen says:

    @tote: So by your reasoning, for the safest system possible, they should remove all safety devices? Really?
    You and I know business will always try to balance cost and risk. We now know just how well that worked for the US financial system.
    All companies tend to lower the risk factor a little. And it usually works for 5-10-20 years, long enough for the company’s current money makers to walk off with a crooked smile.
    What this disaster (yes, disaster) tells me if that they did not spend enough time doing their failure mode analysis. The “cost of doing business” should never have to be shared by the very people whom that business depends on to exist.

  12. Cowicide says:

    The real story behind this disaster:
    Bush & Cheney

    Hey southern states,

    Aren’t you glad you voted in Bush/Cheney now?

    Signed,

    Twinkled-toed, flip-flopping, bleeding heart, environmental wacko progressive

    P.S. Libertarians, conservatives… could you possibly NOW see how deregulation might not be so great after all? Nah….. doesn’t fit into your predetermined mindset, I suppose.

    [cow punches wall and slowing walks out of room while staring evilly at conservatives]

  13. tote says:

    My main point was that these were experienced drillers, and that they system is really too complex just to be able to say well, if item x would have been done than this wouldn’t have happened. I’ll give you that companies try to tweak things in there favor one way or another, but really compared to the cost (billions of dollars, years of litigation, disdain by most of the country), $500k is pocket change.
    The ultimate problem is that the American people can’t have their cake and eat it too. We don’t want offshore oil projects, we complain about wind turbine projects because we can see them over the horizon. I’ve had a lady say that we shouldn’t even TEST a tidal turbine until a detailed analysis of what it would do to the plankton, but I’m sure she had no problem taking her motorboat out for a spin later. Everyone wants to consume more and more energy. TVs! iProducts! Cars! But we need new energy sources or to conserve the ones we have, but that is too much to ask for. So we continue our stale-mate: drilling for oil, litigating wind farms, making wild assumptions about technology that we haven’t taken the time to research ourselves and just trust what we hear from the media who are just reading what their intern could find on wikipedia half an hour ago. What I would really like is to people do their own research and make their own opinions instead of parroting the last thing they’ve heard. What is the process for digging an oil well and what sort of precautions are there already? What sort of studies have there been done on wind turbine bird strikes? The world is a complicated place and most people aren’t willing to see half the connections.

  14. Teller says:

    BBer Schadenfreude Alert: unless someone I know in the business doesn’t know a kelly from a kielbasa, the fire started during a mudding process being conducted by Halliburton – thus putting a big fat lawsuit in the future of your favorite company.

  15. Snig says:

    BP reps were allegedly offering people who are going to be affected by the spill $5,000 if they gave up the right to sue. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=126468782
    Likely an administrative oversight at BP, someone gave the order to get all scumsuckers into action, and someone didn’t realize they meant literal scumsuckers, not legal scumsuckers.

  16. That Evening Sun says:

    This Oil Spill ‘The Bad One’

    “Most Americans think of Exxon Valdez when it comes to spills. But the potential and likelihood here “is well beyond that,” said University of Rhode Island ocean engineering professor Malcolm Spaulding. Because the Deepwater Horizon well has not been capped and may flow for months more, it should be compared to a bigger more dangerous one from a well explosion in 1979, said Tunnell. That was Ixtoc 1, off the coast of Mexico. It was the worst peacetime oil spill on record.”

    I’m afraid that it is going to take a long time to cap this one. People here who think there is a chance that everything in and along the Gulf will be back to the way it was before in a year or two are deluded.

    There has been oil on the beaches of the Florida panhandle for two days already.

  17. Anonymous says:

    Next angle taken by BP: Why are you guys so upset? Crude oil is 100% natural and organic!

  18. Chrs says:

    I figured I should bring some actual data, because there are a lot of people here who don’t seem to know what they’re talking about.

    The Exxon Valdez spill, from Wikipedia:

    “As of early 2007 more than 26 thousand U.S. gallons (22,000 imp gal; 98,000 L) of oil remain in the sandy soil of the contaminated shoreline, declining at a rate of less than 4% per year.”

    That’s a tenth of the total spill, after one of the most intensive cleanups in US history, still in the environment after twenty years.

    And that decline rate? That correlates to a half-life of 17 years. Chernobyl? The radioactive exposure in the immediate area dropped by half in less than a month, though the decline has slowed since (it’s now dominated by longer-lived isotopes).

    Within the 17-mile exclusion zone, radiation levels are 10-100 times typical background radiation.

    Scrape six inches down in the shore of Prince William Sound, and you hit oil.

    The damage from this spill is not going away “within a year or two”, or “5 years”, to quote two people earlier in the thread, and the sentiments of many others. You are making shit up. This is a long-term change to the Gulf ecosystem, and if the gusher doesn’t get stopped soon, it’s going to be worse than the Exxon Valdez, in a much more economically critical and much less geographically limited area. And the estimated rate of the spill keeps increasing.

    Long story short? Sounds incredibly comparable to me. If anything, Chernobyl might be a bit of an understatement. Dear commenters: Don’t make bad assumptions to back up your feelings on an issue.

    • Anonymous says:

      “The damage from this spill is not going away “within a year or two”, or “5 years”, to quote two people earlier in the thread, and the sentiments of many others. You are making shit up.”

      ^this.

      Where do these idiots think the oil is going to *go*?

  19. imipak says:

    @lopha yes, good point, I didn’t mean to diminish the 11 deaths, and I did actually refer to them in a later post which BB seems to have eaten :(

    I was intending to point out that as the Torrey Canyon[1], Amoca Cadiz[2], Piper Alpha[3] (167 dead) and Exxon Valdez disasters didn’t stop production in the North Sea, the expansion of the Milford Haven oil terminal, or production in Alaska respectively. A bunch of engineers who built a rig that was able to explode in the way this did, and the blow-out preventer that failed, and then assessed the probability of a catastrophic failure as too low to worry about are unlikely to find their careers prosper.

    The novel technical aspect of what they were doing was that it’s in very deep water, not the shallow couple of hundred feet the typical North Sea, South China Sea and most other offshore production.

    An interesting link to the CDO bank failures: the failure of BP’s risk management processes are now costing them serious amounts of money. They aren’t insured for events like this (seriously – they had a strategic review and decided such insurance was too costly for the benefits. So a bunch of their industrial peers will be looking very carefully about what went wrong in the first place, and how the incident response process is going. (The CEO’s flown in to take command, but I don’t think that’s likely to stop the mud sticking. Expensively. All those fishermen are going to want compensation for being out of work for the next five years, I’m thinking, and that’s not going to be cheap.

    [1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Torrey_Canyon
    [2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amoco_Cadiz
    [3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Piper_Alpha

    • Ryanwoofs says:

      All those fishermen are going to want compensation for being out of work for the next five years, I’m thinking, and that’s not going to be cheap.

      If the Exxon Valdez is a precedent, those fishermen are going to be waiting a long time for any compensation. Last year, Exxon finally started paying a tiny portion of the money they have been ordered to give fishermen they put out of business with their spill *20 years ago.* And Exxon is still appealing other parts of the compensation plan.

      http://www.adn.com/2009/09/01/919306/attorneys-prepare-to-make-exxon.html

  20. Anonymous says:

    Oil seeps account for about 5,000 barrels of oil per day in the Gulf. We don’t see their effect as the release happens over a wide geographic area and gradually as compared to one source spewing oil, so that nature takes care of the oil through decomposition and distribution. Lots of tar balls come from these sources and not necessarily from the recent spill. The interested and more than curious should do some research on oil seepage, but do stick with government publication as many people distort what they read while reporting second hand.

    Katrina released about 11 million gallons of oil, of which crews collected about 4 million gallons for a net spill of 7 million gallons. Amazing that the world, and the US in particular, hardly noticed. Luckily the hurricanes contributed to wide dispersal of this oil.

    No doubt about it, this spill has caused, and will cause, a lot of damage. Nonetheless, under the assumption that the relief well does succeed with the bottom kill, the Gulf, because of its warm water and storms, will likely come back, and come back faster than the Valdez spill, though I would expect some long term ecological damage, though I would not characterize that as a disaster.

  21. Certhas says:

    And the radiation in Chernobyl will return to normal levels in between 600 and 900 years.

    Now as before, Chernobyl wasn’t that much of an enviromental disastzer anyways. Nature doesn’t care that much. An oil spill of this magnitude does affect things much more. At the same time, no one will die of the Oil spill.

    So while they are comparable in some ways, Chernobyl was a catastrophe primarily for the human population, whereas this oil spill is of an ecological nature.

    It’s simply very different kinds of contamination.

    • Chrs says:

      Very different, clearly, but similarly extreme.

      The impacts on the environment of the Gulf spill will place similar limitations on the human use of the area to those found at Chernobyl, if not worse. Hydrocarbons are not known for being innocuous contaminants, and are likely to cause, among other things, increased cancer. The area will just be less well-defined.

      The only major difference for the human population is the initial loss of life.

  22. InsertFingerHere says:

    As bad as the Gulf spill is, imagine what it could do to an ecosystem as fragile and threatened as our North.

    http://www.ctv.ca/servlet/ArticleNews/story/CTVNews/20100502/layton-oil-exploration-100502/20100502?hub=Canada

  23. Anonymous says:

    That is objectively false. Clearly, not enough people in this country are educated on the actual events and aftermath of Chernobyl.

  24. Ryanwoofs says:

    I forgot to add: But don’t take my word for it.
    http://www.awea.org/faq/sagrillo/swbirds.html

    People letting their cats outside kills more birds per year than windmills.

  25. Anonymous says:

    I thought BP had gotten out of the oil business and was strictly a clean, renewable energy company now. They have that green helios logo, don’t they?

  26. Anonymous says:

    Chrs,

    There are natural oil seeps in the Gulf Of Mexico (and other places) all the time. Natural oil slicks develop periodically and have been doing so for, well, who knows how long. So there’s small amounts of petroleum spread out all over the place. To say that it’s a long term change in the ecosystem may be a bit misleading. Also, it’s not like the sandy/rocky shores of Alaska. It’s a marsh/bog environment, mostly, with some beaches to the East.

    Yes, this is a terrible disaster. Comparing it to past oil spills is warranted, but comparing it to Chernobyl is just stupid and it’s going to make it easier for people to write off people making that claim.

    • Chrs says:

      The rate of natural oil seeps is nowhere near equivalent to that of a spill. More on that in a moment.

      For your general point… I also don’t understand saying that a certain level of, oh, let’s call it “background petroleum”, negates the comparison. It’s a cancer-causing poison that life in the area has evolved to deal with, at a certain level. We’re in the process of giving it a few orders of magnitude more than it’s used to dealing with. Does this sound familiar?

      Anyway, I keep trying to think of a good metaphor for oil spill versus seep, but there are specific mechanical effects that don’t apply to most other situations.

      The Coast Oil Point seep field is in California, and your comparison doesn’t really hold. It’s one of the largest known in the world, and kicks out 100-150 barrels of oil per day. From personal experience, that amounts to seeing a few dozen balls of tar if you walk a mile of beach. The ratio of tar to everything else for a natural seep is really low. One consequence? The oil is broken up by natural wave action into tar balls. They’re relatively easy for animals to avoid eating, acquire a coating of sand and other isolating particles pretty quickly, and have fairly low interaction with the environment, all things considered.

      This doesn’t happen to anywhere near the same degree with an oil spill, because of the much higher ratio of tar to everything else.

      Other points:
      -Higher temperature will result in more rapid leaching of chemicals from the oil compared to Alaska, likely resulting in more poisonous (though somewhat shorter-lived) effects on plants and wildlife.
      -I’d argue that it’s probably worse for a marsh or bog, because of the higher biomass as a fraction of the whole environment, though I don’t have any information to back that up myself. I’m not looking forward to finding out, although the results won’t tell us much until we can control for relative levels of exposure.

      • Chrs says:

        (The “cancer-causing” is a little misleading, admittedly, since the primary mode of action is shorter-term poisoning or mechanical effects such as soaking feathers or hair)

    • mdh says:

      Giant concrete domes, remotely operated robot cameras, energy production leading to environmental degradation impacting hundreds of thousands to millions….

      i’d say it’s an order of magnitude less, but otherwise quite like chernobyl.

      as for natural seeps, those are like sweaty pipes compared to the water main we’ve opened undersea.

  27. TheUrbanCore says:

    I remember tar balls growing up on the gulf coast. They would be really easy to harvest. Could they not be used for energy somehow?

  28. Axx says:

    Hmm. That the irony of the accident highlights both hubris and the widespread damage careless disregard can inflict…I’d say it’s more like America’s Titanic.

  29. Stefan Jones says:

    Nah.

    At least not in the “disaster which results in major policy changes” sense of a Chernobyl.

    Because the corporations in general and the fossil fuel industry in particular are too damn powerful. They and the conservative pundits will figure out a way to blame this on Someone Else. (Were there any Mexicans or poor blacks or gays working on that oil platform?)

    Hell, Rush Limbaugh is already suggesting that the disaster, coming right after Obama declared support for more offshore drilling, had “suspicious timing.” As in, the president didn’t really want to Drill Baby Drill and caused an accident to firm up his case.

    So. We’ll get the horrific environmental disaster, but nothing will change. The Palin Fringe conservatives will sneer about the fish huggers and FOX News will turn it into “Is this the End of the Obama Presidency?” without suggesting the oil industry is the slightest bit culpable.

    • waterdog says:

      You are right, nothing will change. We will continue to buy inefficient vehicles. It isn’t big oil, they are there to make money. We are the cause because we want more oil.
      How much oil do you use? Lights, cars? Do you support nuclear wnergy?

    • Anonymous says:

      Maybe we should call this the Halliburton Oil Spill since it was Halliburton’s engineers who were misrunning the platform when the leak happened. Halliburton caused this mess!

  30. Anonymous says:

    Actually President Obama is totally responsible. When he 16 years old, he sabotaged the steel plant with something and made the metal weak. Glen Beck knows this to be true. Its a Communist-Socialist-Nazi plot.

    • Chuck says:

      >Actually President Obama is totally responsible. When he 16 years old, he sabotaged the steel plant with something and made the metal weak. Glen Beck knows this to be true. Its a Communist-Socialist-Nazi plot.

      Yeah, you tell ‘em.

      And we all remember when Barack Obama was always chanting “drill baby drill” back in 2008, right?

  31. coaxial says:

    Well that makes one us who doesn’t think you’re overstating it.

    Come back when there are abandoned cities.

    • Chris the Tiki guy says:

      Abandoned cities? No, no Pripyats yet.

      The potential for dead zones in the Gulf larger than several states combined, and losses of countless livelihoods, diminished tourism dollars, and horrific ecological damage? Check.

      • bersl2 says:

        “The potential for dead zones”

        Well, a different kind of dead zone, maybe. Because of all the fertilizer and treated sewage flowing out from the Mississippi River, there have been anoxic zones, also called “dead zones”, for decades.

        • Chris the Tiki guy says:

          True, but this one will likely take out a large portion of Gulf oysters and crabs that hadn’t previously been overdosed on nitrogen-enriched ag runoff. Not to mention the better part of a generation of migratory birds on shore and in the water…

  32. Antinous / Moderator says:

    Maybe more like the Dust Bowl than Chernobyl.

  33. Anonymous says:

    All those politicians that were screaming “drill baby drill” need to spend a week in the clean up efforts and look all those dying creatures in the eyes. Idiots!

  34. Marcel says:

    If they don’t manage to stop the spill within one week, it will be worse than Chernobyl.

    Nature thrives around Chernobyl.

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/4923342.stm

    Nothing thrives in the muck that’s about to hit the shorelines.

  35. rebdav says:

    I am surprise the spill is so big, gulf oil is often pretty heavy for the wells that are still running, it actually takes quite a bit of work to get the oil up for most of them. Most gulf wells, or perhaps all now are not gushers. It was probably the oil in storage waiting for a tanker.

    • SpaceGhost says:

      I got a theory that the Chilean quake unsettled the crust near the oil deposit, perhaps some of the ceiling over the reserves pocket is collapsing into it, squeezing it like a pimple. It might explain why its gushing so forcibly under the weight from tons of rock and the water mass above it.

    • Anonymous says:

      There was no “oil in storage waiting for a tanker.” It was an exploratory well. They drill a hole, look to see what’s there and then put a cement plug in. They finishing up the cement plug when the accident occurred.

  36. Mitch says:

    It won’t be America’s Chernobyl until a cute Ukrainian woman goes jet skiing through the disaster and makes a photo blog about it:
    http://www.kiddofspeed.com/

  37. Anonymous says:

    Cherynobal was a nuclear incedant wasn’t it? (Sorry for the bad spelling)

  38. Anonymous says:

    I’ve found the ark of this story to be quite interesting. Initially it was No Big Deal(tm) … apart from the 11 missing men, no wait, now they’re dead. Gradually the fate of the workers has receded into the background, and no the spill is The Worst Thing Ever(tm). It’s sorta like the Boxing Day tsunami – initial casualty reports were 20 or 30 dead. That soon changed.

    There is an upside, though. All those delicate and proctected coastal environments are going to get comprehensively rooted in the not too distant future. Once that happens there’ll be no point in protecting them any longer. And that means that certain people with the right connections should be able to snap up coastal property at a nickel to the acre, and see the value of that land absolutely skyrocket over the next decade or two. What’s even better is that it’ll be federal money that’s spent to clean up the coast and thereby ensure that the property values really do go off the scale.

    What that? Who, me? Cynical? Noooo……

  39. lewis stoole says:

    and on the plus side, disasters create employment. a few more of these babies, and america will be back on the rebound!

  40. Anonymous says:

    I was in the oil fields for over a decade and my Dad for 20 years before that. I know these oil companies have to be told with a big stick how to behave. In the 1980s they were dumping directly into the McKenzie river where people drink the water untreated. They did not care what the damage was. Goverment had to move in and put a stop to this unlawfull practice. If you want protection against these oil companies being careless then have someone standing over their operations from beginning to end. YOu would have to be stupid to think you can trust these oil companies. Watch these operations and watch the guy that is watching them. Or you get this. audiences hoorayed

  41. hadlock says:

    MS’s state “GDP” is about 85-90 billion dollars. Tourism makes up about 1.3 billion dollars. Say losing ~2% of your state’s income is a bad thing. That’s not counting bubba gump seafood exports, which is something like 2.8 billion. In a state that’s at or near the bottom of every wikipedia list in terms of finances, and consistently receives more federal dollars than they put into the system. Nobody ever hears about MS because they’re poor and there’s nothing there except costal industries.

    At least when a hurricane rolls through, you can just truck in or repair your old equipment and be producing *something* in 6-8 weeks. By the sounds of it one of their major industries is going to be shut down for the entire busy season.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_U.S._states_by_GDP_(nominal)

  42. benher says:

    Thank goodness oil and water don’t mix!

  43. Certhas says:

    For reference I checked on Wikipedia:

    “Large areas in Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia had to be evacuated, with over 336,000 people resettled.”

    “A 2005 report prepared by the Chernobyl Forum, led by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and World Health Organization (WHO), attributed “fewer than 50″ direct deaths (including nine children with thyroid cancer) and estimated that there may be up to 4,000 additional cancer deaths over time among the approximately 600,000 most highly exposed people.”

    The gulf spill will likely have a larger environmental impact. The environmental impact of Chernobyl wasn’t all that great, nature doesn’t care about higher cancer rates even nearly as much as humans do.

    In terms of human, economic and policy impact it wont come close to Chernobyl.

  44. ian71 says:

    I don’t think I’m overstating the case by saying that the Sierra Club commits wanton acts of hyperbole and inappropriate juxtaposition. But then so did Hitler.

    • publanski says:

      How is the juxtaposition inappropriate? Both are major, environment-destroying accidents related to the production of energy. One due to government negligence and one due to a combination of corporate negligence combined with lack of government oversight. How is the comparison inappropriate?

  45. Anonymous says:

    I thought Three Mile Island was America’s Chernobyl

  46. Anonymous says:

    Can we please refer to this as the “BP Oil Spill” and not the “Gulf Oil Spill?” It is important for corporations to be held responsible for their actions in the media. Everyone remembers the Exxon Valdez spill – no one refers to it as the Alaska Oil Spill.

    • Ryanwoofs says:

      How about we call it “The American Way of Life Is Non-negiotable Oil Spill?” Then, we can just append a year and month for each iterative disaster.

    • Cowicide says:

      Good point. But, I suspect that the change in naming conventions is because we’ve become even more corporatist than since the 1989. Corporations no longer have any responsibility to anyone in this country. We are now a full-on plutocracy.

      Don’t insult your masters by calling it the 2010 BP spill. Call it the Gulf spill and fall into line, slave.

  47. ADavies says:

    Hitler Hitler Hitler!

    Why is it always with the Hitler thing?

  48. IL Denizen says:

    Ian, nah. You are the only one who thinks you are not overstating your case. Nice use of Nazi-Hitler like red-baiting. Oh *snap*. Now go find a non disaster related way to get your political *zingers* in.

  49. Snig says:

    I do remember thinking when “Drill Baby Drill” mania was going on, that the argument was that we need to develop our resources to be better defended. My counter was that in fifty or a hundred years, we would likely still needed to be defended, but that we would have better means of extracting the oil that left a smaller footprint. And we’d likely have both greater need, and better tech for using the oil. I feel smart, but would still prefer to feel smart and be able to go to the beach without worrying about someone smoking and causing an immolation.

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