Pacific Swell | Southern California environment news and trends

Gradually, then suddenly: Oil and water in the Gulf of Mexico

I was listening to a segment my colleague Liane Hansen did - talking to Christopher D'Elia, from LSU's School for the Coast and the Environment. Liane used these words to introduce her conversation: disaster. Mind-boggling. Horror. Mesmerized. But maybe a minute and a half, 2 minutes in she said: "It could have been a lot worse."


We can't even decide, really, what to call the thing in our inevitable search to shorten it. BP? (But is it really all their fault?) Deepwater Horizon? (Better. But then where's BP?) Macondo, that'll work. (Oil guys love this one. It's all location.) MC252. (Clinical, clean; sounds like R2D2's cousin. I bet oil guys love that one too.)

Then: is it a spill? A disaster? A release? A rig explosion followed by a well failure? Navigating among these choices is tricky; balancing responsibility and description is a noble aim; words fail as we try to describe something that has happened and yet is still happening.

I'm not much of a Hemmingway woman, but The Sun Also Rises seems appropriate here. "How did you go bankrupt?" "Two ways. Gradually, then suddenly."

I met Chris D'Elia in Cocodrie at LUMCON recently. I'll share more about what he told me later this week. In the meantime, as we ramp up into the anniversary coverage, remember: we're trying to get a handle on two things. One, the acute effects of what happened: what spewed from a pipe deep underwater. Two, the chronic, long-term ones: what's coming next

I didn't learn all of what scientists been studying, or anything close. I will give it the top-5 treatment later this week. The point of this post is just to say: whatever you think is happening in the Gulf of Mexico, it's probably more complicated than that. We're still telling the story as we try to define it.