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The BP spill is bad, I think we all agree about that, but it could be much, much worse. First, a little umbrella so that people do not poop all over this site because they think I am defending BP. British Petroleum and the companies that worked for them on the Deepwater Horizon are definitely responsible for the spill and should be held accountable. Now that that is out the way I can get on with the purpose of this post.

In 1979 a well named Ixtoc I was being drilled in the Gulf of Campeche about 62 miles offshore. At some point in the operation drilling mud circulation was lost and the well experienced a blowout. The blowout preventer was, at the time, not in line with the drill collars, rendering it ineffective. The spill is almost exactly the same except for the fact that Ixtoc I was in 161 feet of water. In the end, Pemex, the national oil company of Mexico and the owner of the well, lost 3.5 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. Rather than paying residents on the coast of Texas who had experienced damage or loss of livelihood, Pemex claimed sovereign immunity and spent only $100 million to clean up the spill.

Ixtoc I Spill

The Ixtoc I spill has gone on record as being the worst accidental spill in history (incidentally, the worst spill in history was Saddam Hussein burning the Kuwaiti oil fields). Until the BP leak is completely sealed up and the areas effected by it cleaned, we will not know the full extent of the damage and how it compares to Ixtoc I, but I am going to guess that Ixtoc I will still take the prize as the worst accidental spill in history.

BP could have done the cowardly thing and run away from this spill much like Pemex did in 1979 but they made a conscience decision to clean it and fix it. Sure, their handling of the issue has been less than perfect, but they could have turned tail and run, leaving the British government to decide what to do. I really wish what was reported on the news was not the same old, “worst disaster in history”, not just because it isn’t true, but because it’s sensationalism at its worst.

A lot of folks are calling for the suspension of deepwater or even offshore drilling and I think that is a poor way to go about the future. The Deepwater Horizon tragedy is the first U.S. offshore spill in 40 years. It was the first offshore spill on a rig anywhere in the world in 20 years. These incidents are few and far between and yes, while there should be more rigorous safety checks on the platforms, the idea that getting rid of offshore drilling would completely rid the world of oil disaster one-offs is absurd. Rather than blaming the oil, blame the people who caused the spill and figure out ways to keep it from happening again.

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    • June 17, 2010

      Wow. I don’t even know where to start. I looked at the blogpost that you used as your link and have to point out a few things that are just plain false.

      First is the idea that benzene is spewing from the Gulf spill area. This is chemically impossible unless BP has somehow built a refinery out there. Making benzene requires a certain chemical reaction and this reaction is only created when oil products are heated to a certain temperature (cracking). This is not happening in the Gulf.

      Second is this notion that hydrogen sulfide is some terrible substance. Our sewers and even our bodies produce hydrogen sulfide. Though it is toxic, it’s a heavy gas and only poses a problem in poorly ventilated areas, besides that, it dissipates. I don’t know of any hydrogen sulfide being released by BP but I’m sure it is coming out of the well (sulfur is usually present in crude oil). My guess is that BP is burning it off just like any other flare at any other oil production facility would.

  1. July 6, 2010

    Very interesting points here. I too grow tired of the sensationalism, and even worse those that take it all at face value convinced of its infallibility. Another pebble in the proverbial shoe lies in the finger pointing. BP accepted responsibility, and that’s really about all you can ask for. Disasters will happen. Shutting down the operations entirely is just too extreme.

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