The crisis in the Gulf of Mexico involving the wrecked rig Deepwater Horizon and an uncontrolled gushing of oil into the gulf could have serious repercussions when all is said and done. While no one would want to downplay the seriousness of the situation and the potential effects on both the environment and the economy of the region, we must make sure that hysteria doesn't overtake common sense in the coming months.
The oil flowing into the gulf everyday cannot be categorized as a "spill." A leaking tanker may cause a spill, but an open well could leak an unprecedented amount of crude before it can be stopped. Hopefully the current attempt to place a container over the well and then pump the oil into waiting tankers will work. If not, then bigger problems will occur.
At some point, the well will be capped and the oil gush will stop flowing. When that does happen, the political climate will take over and discussions will begin over how to prevent such a problem from occurring again. This is where calm voices must take control.
Rig accidents of this kind are rare, but when they occur they can be catastrophic. So, do we ban off-shore drilling of any kind? Not likely. America is no closer to ending its dependence on oil — and we cannot afford to rely even more on foreign supplies. Do we push the off-shore rigs even further out? Possibly, but drilling in deeper water is far trickier and can make gushers harder to control.
Do we simply live with the risk of such blowouts and continue on the current path? Maybe for the short term this would be best, but most realize that alternative forms of fuel have to become more of a priority for this country.
One thing that must be kept in perspective is history. The New York Times reports that Deepwater Horizon so far is nowhere near the scale of the Ixtoc I blowout in Mexico's Bay of Campeche in 1979, which spilled an estimated 140 million gallons of oil over nine months. Within three years, though, there was little visible trace of the crude on the Mexican coast. An even bigger spill in the Persian Gulf during the Gulf War in 1991 also proved to have done little long-term ecological damage.
Maybe the latest incident will be worse. Maybe it won't be. But let's hope our leadership stays calm in trying to find the proper answers.
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