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May 10, 2010 – The Gulf Oil Spill continues unabated. The attempt to lower a containment device down over the well failed because of hydrates crystallizing on the inside of the dome, around the opening. The dome has been moved off to one side, to make room for the next attempt at closing off the leak. Thus far, it is conservatively estimated that three and a half million gallons have leaked into the waters of the Gulf of Mexico. (The Exxon Valdez spilled 11 million.) On May 5, British Petroleum “officials” told a Congressional committee that the oil spill could grow by as much as ten times current estimates. No wonder they had that “deer in the headlights” look.

No wonder they keep telling Americans they’ll pay all related costs. No wonder we won’t know the day has arrived when they refuse to do so; it will be months from now, and our attention will have been diverted elsewhere. When the Valdez’s hull split, it happened very far away, in Alaska. This oil spill is taking place a mile below the surface.
We cannot see the methane pouring into the atmosphere. We cannot see the sea creatures that have suffocated because of being coated with oil. People are comforted when they hear that thousands of pounds of oil dispersants have been used to break up the oil spill. Do not be deceived: this in no way gets rid of the oil. It disperses it, so that the visual evidence of the unfolding tragedy is not as apparent. The oil is still in the Gulf. By the time we SEE the ruined beaches, we’ll be past the point of no return. The Gulf will never be the same.

I hope that Congress will disallow offshore drilling forever. I had not realized that drilling deeper than 500 feet below the surface released very large volumes of methane. I did not know that coastal erosion has uncovered miles of pipeline, releasing further quantities of methane into the atmosphere. We both know that methane emissions have been rising steadily since 2007. Now we know part of the reason why.

When I first heard that it was possible that the oil being spilled into the Gulf could be swept into a current that follows the tip of Florida up the East Coast, it struck me as part of a disaster movie plot. How could the oil go so far? How could it hurt beaches and estuaries, sea creatures and birds so far away from the site of the spill? Then I remembered: it really is one world. We do not live separate from one another. What affects one, affects us all. The methane in the atmosphere travels by means of air currents. The methane in the ocean travels by means of water currents. The sea turtles that fail to reproduce do not bring offspring into the world to prey upon the fish and other creatures they would have eaten, had they been born. The birds that do not complete migration will also fail to reproduce. The world has become a less beautiful place, because of this oil spill. Less miraculous. More bedraggled, more woebegone. Things have been lost that cannot be measured, but have infinite impact.

I hope that Congress will disallow offshore drilling forever.


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