The problem with the April 20 spill is that it isn’t really a spill: It‘s a gush, like an underwater oil volcano. A hot column of oil and gas is spurting into freezing, black waters nearly a mile down, where the pressure nears a ton per inch, impossible for divers to endure. Experts call it a continuous, round-the-clock calamity, unlike a leaking tanker, which might empty in hours or days.
One thing I’m noticing about the media coverage is that it’s like the blind people describing the elephant. Different media outlets are getting different pieces of the story right — and some pieces wrong. But unless you survey the entire coverage, you will definitely get a misimpression of what’s going on.
The Wall Street Journal, for instance, has been doing some good reporting, but perhaps because it’s behind a firewall, much of it has been slow to leak out and get the attention it deserves for, say, Halliburton’s crucial role or the remote-control shutoff switch that BP couldn’t be bothered to spend $500,000 on.
Most of the media is calling the undersea volcano of oil a “leak” or “spill, which creates a serious misimpression of what BP and the government are up against. Indeed, it feeds frustration as to why it hasn’t been fixed already. The L.A. Times got this part of the story right in a piece headlined, “BP’s containment problem is unprecedented The company must stop a relentless gush of oil nearly a mile below the surface, in a situation that hasn’t been dealt with before,”
The LAT quotes some experts.
“Everything about it is unprecedented,” said geochemist Christopher Reddy, an oil-spill expert and head of the Coastal Ocean Institute at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts. “All our knowledge is based on a one-shot event…. With this, we don’t know when it’s going to stop.”
Accidents have occurred before in which oil has gushed from damaged wells, he said. But he knew of none in water so deep.
And “everything is bigger and more difficult the deeper you go,” said Andy Bowen, a research specialist who works with undersea robotics at the Woods Hole center. “Fighting gravity is tough. It increases loads. You need bigger winches, bigger cables, bigger ships.”
An analogy, he said, is the difference between construction work on the ground versus at the top of a mile-high skyscraper.
The bottom line: An ounce of prevention is worth 10 million gallons of cure.
This post was created for ClimateProgress.org, a project of the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Joseph Romm is the editor of Climate Progress and a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress.
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