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A Brief History of the BP Oil Spill

June 2, 2010

Brit Trogen

 

In the six weeks since the BP explosion and subsequent devastation of the Gulf of Mexico, we've seen waves of expert opinions and attempted clean-ups, only to be foiled time and again. So while we continue to struggle against the seemingly endless tide of gushing oil—most recently with an attempt to sever pipes with a diamond tipped saw—let’s take a moment to revisit some of the more memorable, and why they failed.


First was the "containment dome"—an idea that seemed even to the most optimistic of us like something doomed to fail. Seriously… A giant dome? Yes, in early May a device was sent to the ocean floor to cover the contaminated area and funnel oil back to the surface. Unfortunately, natural gas crystals formed inside the dome, clogging the outlet meant to funnel the oil, and it had to be abandoned.


Later came "top kill," which involved pumping drilling fluid back down the original pipes to stop the upward flow of oil (a great explanation from Bill Nye can be found here.) That strategy was almost definitely going to work, right up until the point that it too failed. In short, it just wasn’t successful in plugging the leak, and the oil continued to flow.


And now we’re left scrounging for the next viable alternative, with some even turning to James Cameron for out-of-the-box suggestions. BP has admitted that they will no longer attempt to cap the leak, and only try to siphon oil from the surface, leaving us with a natural disaster that will undoubtedly have more significant and longer-lasting effects than any other in recent history.


We can take some comfort from the fact that BP is now facing criminal investigation, but ultimately, the greatest price will be paid by the environment, and the public who have undoubtedly decided that science is unable to save them in their time of greatest need.

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