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.
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.