The Gulf’s perfectly oily storm

Workers clean up the beach at Port Fourchon, LA Photo: British Petroleum

Worst environmental disaster in U.S. history?

Everyone knows the answer-  The failure of the British Petroleum “Deepwater Horizon” oil rig.

It exploded April 20th, killing 11 workers, and triggering a massive oil spill a mile beneath the surface in the Gulf of Mexico.  Click here to see streaming video of spill.

The BP oil spill is large, concentrated and toxic.

This is a disaster that has long been in the making. It was sparked by too little regulatory oversight, political leadership or corporate responsibility.   It has human consequences. “There are people who are getting desperate,” the Rev. Theodore Turner, at Mount Olive Baptist Church in Boothville, LA told NBC News.  “And there are more getting anxious as we get further into the shrimping season and there is less chance they will recover,” said Turner.  Fishermen make up about a third of his congregation.

The disaster is still spreading like some toxic genie that’s escaped its bottle. The spill is killing wildlife and habitat as it disrupts the region’s economy and the lives of thousands of residents.  According to NBC News, the Gulf Coast is one of America’s richest ecosystems and a vital breeding ground for a $6.5 billion seafood industry.  According to Reuters, Louisiana’s $2.4 billion seafood industry supplies up to 40 percent of U.S. seafood supply and employs over 27,000 people.

The uncapped mess also asks:

  • how long will it take for the region to recover from the unbridled pollution?
  • what regulatory controls should prevent events like this from happening?
  • where is our political leadership?
  • what impact could this have on America’s energy policy?

A brown pelican struggles to fly with a heavy coating of crude oil near Cat Island, LA. The majority of the other pelicans on the island seem protected by a double and triple layer of boom material. PHOTO BY TED JACKSON / THE TIMES-PICAYUNE

Attempts to cap the well with a containment dome and top-kill procedure have failed.  Unless another fix works, it may take two months or more for a relief well to be drilled to stop the oil gushing from the Gulf’s floor.  That could mean two, three,  or four times more oil than has already poured into the Gulf, polluting its salt and freshwater marshes, beaches, rivers and bays.

The oil is gushing from a hole British Petroleum, Halliburton and Transocean drilled with assurances something like this couldn’t happen.  Those assurances were backed by our own federal government.

Play the NASA video below to see the time-lapse spread of the leaking oil.

Here are the facts of the moment:

  • The Gulf spill has surpassed the Exxon Valdez disaster off Alaska in 1989 as the worst U.S. oil spill.
  • An estimated 504,000 to 798,000 gallons of oil are spilling each day from the gushing leak.
  • British Petroleum estimates oil-spill recovery operations have cost $990 million to date.
  • A CBS MarketWatch report estimates BP has lost $45 billion in value since the oil spill began.

Workers clean oil from Fourchon Beach, LA. RUSTY COSTANZA / THE TIMES-PICAYUNE

The Miami Herald reports“The damage to the shorelines of Gulf states such as Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida is literally only the surface of the problem: The damage to the sea floor could be extensive, and oil could also devastate marine life between the Gulf floor and its surface, as well as in coastal areas far from the leaking wellhead.”

The New Orleans Times-Picayune reports:  “Tyler Priest, a historian at University of Houston who has written a book about the history of offshore drilling, said Pemex thought it would go a lot faster.  He cited a headline in the Aug. 6, 1979, issue of Oil & Gas Journal that reads, “Pemex: Ixtoc may flow until Oct. 3.” “They initially estimated three months. It took them almost 10, ” Priest said. “
Granted, drilling technology is better now.  But the extreme depth of the leaking pipeline may make this “kill” as challenging and risky as ever. 

Who’s to blame? This is the perfect storm where fingers point in seemingly every direction while the oil spill spreads in every direction.

The Times-Picayune pointed out in an editorial that although rig owner Transocean and contractor Halliburton were also responsible for the disaster, BP ultimately has to shoulder the blame.

“But they were working under the direction of BP. And BP executives overruled the contractors in at least one critical decision, involving when to drain the mud fluid needed to keep the well from blowing up. During Wednesday’s hearing of the Coast Guard and Minerals Management Service investigation of the explosion, the rig’s chief mechanic testified that he was in a planning meeting 11 hours before the explosion at which the BP “company man” overruled the drillers.”

According to a New York Times editorial, there are also signs that the U.S. Interior Department’s Minerals Management Service routinely ignored basic environmental laws and its own rules to fast track drilling permits.

This is the site of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The boat at the top left is collecting some of the oil and burning off natural gas. The rig second to right is drilling the relief well. RUSTY COSTANZA / THE TIMES-PICAYUNE

The U.S. government claims to be calling the shots in response to the spill. Its credibility is undermined by the fact that it doesn’t have the equipment or technology to stop the leak.

If we can put men on the moon, shouldn’t the federal government be able to better respond to oil mishaps like these, especially since our country relies so heavily on oil for our energy needs?  Why shouldn’t oil companies drilling in U.S. waters pay a portion of their royalty fees to fund equipment and staffing for an independent federal response team that can respond to disasters like the Deepwater Horizon blowout?

Of course that’s a small part of responding to disasters like these. These are times when Americans expect political leaders to lead or get out of the way.

Why has there been little action and fewer results from our political leaders concerning the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history?  It as only two months ago that Barack Obama took the Republican slogan “drill, baby, drill” as his own, opening over 500,000 square miles of U.S. coastal waters to oil and gas exploitation for the first time in over 20 years.  At the time,  Obama said the administration would take steps to protect the environment.

Instead of working together on solutions, why do some politicians prefer calculating which president or member of Congress will lose the most from a disaster that has no party affiliation?

Political leadership from both parties should rise to the top faster than the crude oil blasting from the Gulf of Mexico’s floor.  They really should.  So far though,  our political leadership has been as murky as the globs of oil spreading across the Gulf of Mexico.

About Bernard McCoy

My views are my own and not a reflection of my employer. I'm a professor of Journalism at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. I've also been a working journalist for the past 29 years. I have covered news stories in war zones, reported on human and natural disasters, presidential conventions, a presidential inauguration and the September 11th, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center in New York City. My career experiences include work as an award-winning documentary producer, television news reporter, photographer, producer, and anchor. I worked at WIBW-TV, Topeka, KS., KCTV, Kansas City, MO, WKBD-TV, Detroit, MI., WILX-TV, Lansing, MI. and WBNS-TV, Columbus, OH. I have also worked as a contributing reporter for The Columbus Dispatch, Associated Press, CBS, CNN, the Ohio News Network and lecture at the Kosovo Institute of Journalism and Communications. I have a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Kansas and a master’s degree in telecommunications management from Michigan State University.
This entry was posted in Economy, Environment, Gulf of Mexico, Gulf Oil Spill, Journalism, The United States, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

41 Responses to The Gulf’s perfectly oily storm

  1. elmer says:

    When will man realize that he cannot eat MONEY

  2. futurequest says:

    I keep hearing that a containment dome was tried, yet I don’t recall ever seeing that. I’ve submitted such to BP. which would in-case the entire well head in cement but haven’t see it tried. It appears the dome spoken of was the box place over the broken riser pipe laying on the Gulf’s floor to recover the oil leaking.

    A drawing of the Containment Dome to seal the entire well head is posted at

    At this point I’m not certain that stopping the oil is really what the big wheels want. The depth and loss of the rig able to work at that depth is gone. The relief well drilling will be by rigs not designed for the job. It now seems that the oil will be allowed to flow as a way to reduce the pressure for the relief wells drilled by unsuited rigs.

  3. The Seas Struck

    “Then the second angel sounded: And something like a great mountain burning with fire was thrown into the sea, and a third of the sea became blood. And a third of the living creatures in the sea died…” Revelation 8:8-9.

  4. Sandeep says:

    This is a real matter for concern specially from a developed nation.

  5. T.J. Brown says:

    Very sad! Very sad for Earth, and humanity

  6. clearville says:

    The same scenario is taking place onshore.
    Regulators previously worked for the gas industry. Toxic chemicals are injected into the subsurface and do not flowback. The huge onshore disaster is accumulating, toxic chemicals in the drilling fluids seep into water which has not been tested for poisons. No one listens to any plea to stop injecting toxic chemicals into the earth compromising water: Riches-More important at the expense of onshore environment?

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  8. scarsarestories says:

    This oil spill (or “spills”, rather!) has been absolutely disgusting. The way that it’s been handled in the mainstream media has been equally as gross.

    However, it isn’t impacting lives nearly as much as pipeline breaks in Nigeria have been affecting people that live there for the past many years. In one case, a pipeline break that turned dry land into lakes of oil was reported by Nigerians within a few days – it took Shell Oil SIX MONTHS to so much as respond. The Guardian (UK paper) has a great article about this:

    Best Wishes, all around the world!

  9. Loved what you gave us. Awesome, keep up the good work, thanks Miraim

  10. paulderry says:

    Whether or not the response is as full as possible, we won’t really be able to know until the right questions get asked to the right people. The fact that this happened saddens me, even though the Gulf Coast is notorious for being hot, humid, and in some places, foul smelling, I still love it.

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  12. Matt says:

    It makes me so mad that President Obama didn’t step in and let the military stop this with a bomb the day it happened

  13. phil says:

    only words i can say it shameful on BP my own countries company seems like it has`nt got a bloody clue what to do ,well ive got one idea for you get off your coperate arses and do something !!!!bugger the cost save the seas the coastlines the wildlife,the peoples jobs .who says this me a Brit who knows folk in all the affected areas so BP FINGER OUT GOT FOR IT

  14. phil says:

    only words i can say it shameful on BP my own countries company seems like it has`nt got a bloody clue what to do ,well ive got one idea for you get off your coperate arses and do something !!!!bugger the cost save the seas the coastlines the wildlife,the peoples jobs .who says this me a Brit who knows folk in all the affected areas so BP FINGER OUT GO FOR IT

  15. Eldon Reeves says:

    Perhaps the real culprit are the consumers who use all that oil to (for example) drive their cars around everywhere.

    No demand = no drilling = no problem.

    • paulderry says:

      Keep in mind that oil is also used for a lot more than just powering automobiles, airplanes, or electricity generation. We use it for manufacturing, medicine, basic research and maintenance. I most certainly agree, we need to find a way to reduce our consumption of oil for purposes such as transportation, but until we find a better way to get simple hydrocarbons like Benzene, we’ll depend on oil to provide us with the materials we need to synthesize medication or plastics.

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  17. greltam says:

    Why can’t they put a tube from the surface to the leak and suck it up into tankers? Something along those lines instead of letting it drift all over the place?

  18. Susanna says:

    This is horrific.. I’m amazed that after all this time the leak still has not been stopped. Shame on BP for letting this get so out of hand.

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  20. Songbird says:

    This is absolutely devastating.

  21. dutchtranslator says:

    Some are looking to gain from this it seems …

  22. countsdj says:

    Unfortunately, I see this as the beginning of the end of the United States as the premium world power.

  23. rltj says:

    Maybe they should give those responsible for the catastrophe one gun with one bullet for each of them. 😦

  24. pakeener says:

    BPs revenue for 2009 was >49 billion dollars

    Collectivly we must find alternative sources of energy now and if not now when? When the next “worse oil spill in history” happens again?

    • pakeener says:

      48 billion

    • clearville says:

      Spread the word, humans, wildlife and aquatic life are being polluted by toxic chemicals while the government and corporations legally loot and pollute. Citizens must protect themselves, no one is doing this for them. An environmental crime!

  25. betti3 says:

    911 and Katrina knocked me to my knees..the oil spill is makeing me just as sad.Devastating, horrific, horrifying. The Gulf is dead..I live on the east coast city of Virginia Beach, Va…5 miles from Atlantic Ocean same distance to the Chesapeak Bay..I sutter to think what would happen to our beaches..

  26. medyum says:

    thanks for information

  27. shyexpert says:

    Watching animals get hurt is the saddest part of such tragedies. These are times, we can say to ourselves, that we may be the cleverest on this planet, but we are also the cruelest on this planet.

  28. mud says:

    The optimist proclaims that we live in the best of all possible worlds, and the pessimist fears this is true.

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  30. Interesting post. I have stumbled this for my friends. Hope others find it as interesting as I did.


  31. I tell you the truth that is on my mind about todays world. We are not seeing the full picture.
    When you read it , you will think I am crazy. I believe that the return of fallen angels is inevitable, and that we are now in this time. In the New Testament we are told that our spiritual warfare foucus should be on regions from the heaven.

    Example: Eph. 6:12 For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the RULERS OF THE DARKNESS OF THIS WORLD, against SPIRITUAL WICKEDNESS IN HIGH PLACES.

    Once, I was reading scripture, and my mind, thought how would this great nation, that helps every nation, be turned away form them and how would this nation be brought low. I am seeing it today, as you are. We are being brought down, by these RULERS OF DARKNESS OF THIS WORLD. We have been lied to and deceived, and like Eve in the garden, it is still our own falt. For if Eve went to G-D alone and asked, she would not of believed the lie, and would then not of been deceived. What and Who has lied to us, and are we not going to turn again to G-D alone and ask His help? No, it looks like mankind will still walk in error…and be deceived. All having but one breath, Ecc. 3: 18-19. One breath! And curse a Jew, and you are cursed. Bless a Jew, and you are blessed—read—Jer. 31:27 and 32:27. Do you know who you are? and Gen. 27:27 those who have a second breath.

    What they want to happen to us is found in Jer. 33:26 They want to rule us and keep us from re-turning to the form we were first created in. The mirror image of G-D. We now embrace sin, and not the One True G-D. As it is written in Isaiah 1:29 For you shall be ashamed of the oaks in which you delighted; and you shall blush for the gardens that you have chosen.

  32. IDESS says:

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  33. Tonia Forry says:

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