An oil well in the Gulf of Mexico suffers a well blowout, exploding the rig and releasing a gusher of oil that would eventually become the largest oil spill in history, coating thousands of miles of coastline and devastating wildlife.
Except this wasn’t 2010; it was 1979. And instead of being near the U.S. coast, it was near the Mexican coast, where most of the damage ended up.
The entire coast of Texas was eventually affected, and it took 10 months to clean up the spill. Two relief wells had to be drilled, and cleanup and damage costs remain unknown.
A few things to point out (you can read an extensive JSTOR article here, if you have access):
- They were talking about mandatory shut-off valves in 1979; they were never made mandatory. Surprise, surprise.
- Once the oil is out, there’s really not that much you can do other than plan for sucking up as much oil as you can.
- Natural seeps do occur and the Gulf of Mexico has a number of natural factors in its favor (as opposed to, say, Alaska), such as sun and warm water.
- This will probably take a long time to clean up. It is very doable, just very expensive.
- It sure is a lot easier when the oil ends up on someone else’s coast, not yours.
As long as we are reliant on oil, there will be accidents. As long as oil companies avoid liability and regulation, the accidents will get worse.