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The Deepwater Horizon Anniversary Coverage Needs Some Perspective

America would have burned through the 4.9 million barrels that spilled into the Gulf in a little more than six hours.


I'm grateful for the Deepwater Horizon anniversary coverage this week, but it's lacking some perspective.

The Deepwater Horizon spill has been called by many the greatest environmental disaster in America's history. It was disastrous. But it's worth remembering that the total volume of oil that spilled out of the Macondo well into the Gulf of Mexico was but a small fraction of the oil that is produced and consumed every day in this country. Last July, while the well was still gushing, I ran the numbers and figured out just how small a percent it was. Today, I updated the calculation: America would have burned through the 4.9 million barrels that spilled into the Gulf in a little more than six hours. All the oil from America's greatest environmental disaster would have lasted us until lunchtime.


And the oil that actually does get shipped, refined, and burned every day is arguably the bigger disaster. This was the topic of what is, in my opinion, the greatest Onion article of all time: "Millions of Barrels of Oil Safely Reach Port In Major Environmental Catastrophe." The Deepwater Horizon spill damaged the coastal ecosystem, but oil we burn is causing lung disease and respiratory problems all around the country, and contributing to intensifying floods, droughts, and food shortages all over the globe.

If only there were some way to keep the media's attention on that fact—and not just once a year.

Photo (cc) by nightthree on Flickr