Top Kill

Update: Check out this image of how large the oil spill is in relation to your city. Here's how much of the Seattle metro area the oil spill would cover - and remember, it's not yet HALFWAY DONE SPILLING!

It was announced recently that "Top Kill" has failed, and that the next realistic option for plugging the Deepwater oil leak will be the relief wells BP is drilling - slated to be finished in AUGUST.
“After three full days of attempting top kill, we now believe it is time to move on to the next of our options,” Mr. Suttles said.
The abandonment of the top kill technique, the most ambitious effort yet to plug the well, was the latest in a series of failures. First, BP failed in efforts to repair a blowout preventer with submarine robots. Then its initial efforts to cap the well with a containment dome failed when it became clogged with a frothy mix of frigid water and gas. Efforts to use a hose to gather escaping oil have managed to catch only a fraction of the spill."
Two more months of up to 70,000 barrels a day... How much is that? It's hard to fathom.

A barrel is 42 gallons of oil. Think of one of those water coolers you see in an office (or perhaps in office stock photography - to the right) - those hold three to five gallons of water, maybe. So imagine that you line up ten of those water coolers - maybe every one in your office. That would be as much as a barrel.

You open the spigots on the ten water coolers - but instead of water coming out, it's black, murky, disgusting sludge. Then you leave the spigots open and those ten coolers run out onto the carpet, filling your office, until they run out. That's a lot of oil. That is disgusting; it would coat and ruin everything in your office forever; the smell would never be cleaned out. One barrel would coat your entire office building in a grimy muck of disgusting sludge.

Then imagine that you did this seventy thousand times in one day. That is enough oil to fill four and a half Olympic-size swimming pools. It's impossible to imagine. Four and a half Olympic swimming pools of crude oil spill out into the Gulf Coast, every day, for over a month. That is where we are at now. And because "top kill" has failed, that will continue, unabated, every day, for the next two to three months.

I almost started to tear up in the car as I listened to the news - the spill won't be contained until August. Until August. This BP spill is already the largest oil spill / catastrophic disaster of its kind, ever, and it is only 1/3 over.

How do you respond to this news? We talk about "energy independence" and there are new reports about electric cars and algae-based biodiesel every day. The economic, social, and environmental impact of oil dependence is obvious - but detractors point out the impact of electric fuel and biodiesel as well.

But, then: a troubling thought experiment - when we started building the industrial economy back in the day on new energy-production technologies such as oil and coal, we didn't know how destructive they would end up being (we do now). Who's to say that we aren't going to learn "inconvenient truths" about these new technologies once we turn our livelihoods over to them? What don't we yet know about these new energy technologies?

In my opinion, the only answer to this conundrum is that there is no safe way to generate energy. Some could argue that we're beyond the pale at this point; that because the entire world runs on man-made or man-harvested energy that the only feasible option is to find the least-destructive way to keep the global economy running.

But is that an ethically responsible way to do anything? Find the least destructive way to continue with the status quo? Or do we try to figure out a new way of doing things? A way that, say, requires less energy?

What if we decided that we didn't need to go anywhere further than we could walk or ride a bike? What if we wore our clothes a few weeks, months, or years longer past their fashion expiration dates, or decided to buy used, or locally- or consciously-made? What if we composted and recycled everything that could be? What if we grew our own food instead of having useless lawns in our backyards? What if we ate food that grew on a local farm - no processing plants, non-recyclable packaging, or long-distance trucking required?

And on that note, what if we ate food that didn't waste vast swaths of arable land and natural resources, pollute rivers and the ground, use huge amounts of energy to be processed, emit more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere than all modes of transportation combined, all while making us us more unhealthy (I'm obviously talking about meat)?

Of course, these things are not only a drop in the bucket, they are largely unfeasible for most people - at least most of the time. What I'm trying to say is that we aren't going to be able to keep generating energy and have it be sustainable. There will always be an oil spill, a nuclear reactor explosion, a coal mine collapse - not to mention all of the other environmental, political, social, and economic impacts of energy generation. There will also be some kind of solar, wind, or algae catastrophe at some point. These "alternative" energies are not the answer.

The "answer" is, in part, to use less energy. Change your priorities,  your interests, your "needs," your consumption levels. Sacrifice, maybe? It's a big deal. And you and I are responsible for what happened with the spill. And rectifying this shouldn't be easy.

All those folks talking about simplicity were talking about more than just how to avoid the next BP disaster. But they were talking about how to avoid the next BP disaster.


  1. I love this but hate the topic

  2. I would love to hear more - what do you love? what do you hate?