As of today, as much as forty-three million gallons of oil and nearly a million gallons of dispersants continue to turn the Gulf of Mexico into a toxic environment that will soon rival those in the Niger Delta and the Amazon, if the oil spewing from the BP well cannot be stopped.
I was on site for the Exxon Valdez disaster; going through a second one, even at a distance, has left me close to despair. Comparing the two spills is like comparing apples and oranges. You can't say that the Deepwater spill is "worse", which in no way diminishes its awful magnitude. The Exxon spill was a coldwater spill and Alaska crude is far more dense that that which comes out of the Gulf. On the other hand, the rate of pollution in the warmwater Gulf, and the length of time it will take to stop it, if it can be stopped, the helplessness of those trying to address it, and the criminal neglect that led to it are catastrophic in a way that beggars language and comprehension.
Saturday night I had a waking nightmare that there would be no way to get this gusher capped; that all the world's oceans would be polluted and all the fish, whales, sea birds and other creatures, all the reefs, all the plants and plankton, would die, leaving only the tube worms and a few other species who thrive on eating oil to nibble at the endless feast before them. It is an apocalypse of our own making. "Fouling our own nest" has taken on grim new parameters.
We are going to learn a lot about ocean currents from this spill. When tar balls from the Gulf show up in the Chukchi Sea to mingle with the crud left from the Exxon Valdez we will know that the oil barons have managed to pollute the entire planet through their greed and carelessness. And how long after that can human beings survive?
Of course we are all implicated, all of us who use petroleum in any form; all of us who waste; all of us who refuse to live more simply; all of us who have failed to insist that government clamp down on this industry run amok instead of going to bed with it. With BP's appalling safety record in Alaska, for example, its failure to maintain the pipeline causing spills of hundreds of thousands of gallons on the fragile tundra, why were they ever allowed to drill this well? Why were they allowed to drill when so little is known about the oceans and geology at these depths? Why is Exxon still in business, or any of the oil companies who have left whole geographical areas drowning in toxic goo?
How do we contain this evil, in business, government and in ourselves?
What will it take to make us rise up and say, enough?
For an article on the Niger Delta see www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/may/30/oil-spills-nigeria-niger-delta-shell