So I've been reading more and more about the oil spill going on, and it's pretty depressing on several levels. First off is how poorly the news networks and agencies are at reporting on this crap. One of the basic issues is the total failure at grasping math and unit conversions. Quick primer - oil is measured in a unit called "barrels", and that works out to 42 gallons, or approximately 120 liters for us sensible people using the metric system. Part of the problem is I've seen many agencies getting their units mixed up - for example, one guy reports that there's an estimated 5,000 barrels per day being lost (or 155,000 gallons). Next company picks that up and gets their units fucked up and reports it as 155,000 barrels. Now, that's not to say that 5,000 barrels per day isn't bad, but it's not anywhere near as bad as 155,000 (kinda like saying drug-resistant, incurable chlamydia isn't as bad as HIV). Then you get all sorts of other stupid bullshit, like CNN pulling a stunt today. Now, I happen to know some people who are working on this shit. CNN got in contact with one of these guys and tried to interview him (well, not my friend exactly, but one of the people in his office), and he wound up walking out halfway through. Don't get me wrong, I knew the level of reporting was bad, but I had no idea it was THIS bad. See, this bimbo kept trying to put words in his mouth and get him to say things that simply weren't the case but sounded good. Eventually, he told her that she was clearly going to say whatever she wanted to anyway, and she wasn't allowed to use his name, anything he said, etc.
I hated CNN before (wtfcnn.com is one of my new favorite sites), but holy crap that was bad. Of course, that's not as bad as Fox News, who spend time desperately trying to pin this on North Korea, or illegal immigrants, or Obama intentionally delaying reaction, or space aliens, or who knows what.
All that aside, the oil spill itself is devastating on several levels. Economically, about 1/3 of the economies of the coastal states will disappear. Fishing, shipping and tourism are huge parts of the Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas and Florida economies, and those are going to be just flat gone. Oily, lifeless oceans make for lousy fishing and even lousier beachgoing. Add to that the extra difficulty in getting larger ships through the newly contaminated waters and shipping routes will be heavily affected. The most optimistic predictions I've seen show that the economies of those states will be ruined for the next few years, maybe even decades, to say nothing of what will happen to Mexico. Of course, that's if stopping the spill happens in 90 days, which can only happen if everything goes perfect between now and then. Oh, did I mention that hurricane season happens in less than 50 days, and this season is expected to be worse than any in recent memory? And even a single hurricane in the wrong spot could set back efforts weeks or even months? According to my buddy (who actually used to be an oceanographer in Louisiana studying the effects of Katrina), if even a weak hurricane hits land, it could completely destroy the ecology inland for at least several kilometers, contaminating the groundwater with emulsified oil and dissolved natural gas. This could turn the entire coast in to an uninhabitable wasteland. Hell, even if that doesn't happen, enough oil and natural gas will have leaked out causing ecological and economic damage of a magnitude so large it's almost impossible to imagine.
Of course, that's not the worst-case scenario. Worst-case scenario is something called the clathrate methane. Basically, it's a type of ice that has trapped a crapload of methane as a byproduct of oil production. Normally, it's trapped and can't go anywhere, so all this methane is buried under the oceans where it can't hurt anything. Which is really good, because it's estimated that there's enough methane trapped in this ice to alter the climate to the point where earth could no longer support mammalian life. That includes us humans. So we're lucky this shit can't get out, right? Well, not so fast. Turns out that this pipeline burst could actually release a whole lot of the stuff. Now, according to one summation I read, the guy did a bunch of math and found that while the worst-case scenario of eliminating all life on earth is extremely unlikely, a "the survivors will envy the dead" scenario is far more plausible if this isn't handled properly. Turns out capping a deep-sea oil leak like this isn't... well, possible. That's why additional wells are being drilled in an attempt to hit the same oil patch, relieving the pressure which will then make a capping attempt within the realm of "shit we can actually do".
This is bad.
The only upside I can see? It's gonna be a long, long time before the libertarians say another word about how businesses can regulate themselves out of corporate self-interest.
Edit - oh, and the 5,000 barrels/day? That's an estimate at the extreme low end. More common numbers range in the 20,000-30,000/day range.