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Some people have likened the oil mess in the gulf to a "gusher." Since any 'leak' at 5000 feet down is going to be under tremendous pressure, and near freezing temperatures, it's a bit like opening a bottle of champagne, except no one is celebrating, and we don't know how big that bottle could be--and it's definitely not champagne.

In fact, our whole vocabulary for describing what has happened with the oil well explosion has so far proven inadequate.

It's not a 'spill', and it's not a 'leak'; it could be a 'gusher', or it could be something else. The gulf oil catastrophe is not a spill, because spill implies a container that tips a bit, and slops a bit over the side. It's not a leak, because leaks imply a bit oozing out, but not the amount in question: more than 200,000 barrels of oil a day are flooding out of these holes in the ocean floor and have been now for 22 days, for a likely total of at least four and a half million barrels of oil!

Offshore drillers grumble and moan about new regulations this catastrophe will cause; the Obama administration holds off on new oil leases and talks about new regulations and administrative restructuring to prevent a re-occurrence. Some coastal state Senators propose reinstituting some kind of ban on offshore drilling, while others, and their conservative competitors, continue to promote offshore drilling as a way to "wean" ourselves from foreign oil.

Another way to look at this, however, is that the risks are just too high. That explosion in the Gulf may have been like opening a tap on an oil reserve that could poison not just marshes, crab and shrimp beds and beaches in the Gulf, but the whole world's ocean ecosystem: it's all connected, after all, by the Gulf Stream and the Loop Current.

I hope BP, et al, can plug the holes, stop the gusher, but how many times must we risk global catastrophe before we stop? If you think of that exploded oil well as blowing the cap on an underwater sea of oil, under 5000 feet of pressure, then to do this again and again, even with all the safeguards in the world, is like playing Russian roulette not just with the future of humanity, but with the future of most life on this planet. The costs are just too high.

If we don't want to go the way not of the Roman Empire but of the dinosaurs, we need to take this as a wake up call: build renewable energy sources now through a crash program that would make the Marshall Plan and even our WWII mobilization look like peanuts.

Drilling offshore as a "transitional" program is just plain crazy! We have to get off fossil fuels NOW!

Originally posted to douglassmyth on Wed May 12, 2010 at 09:30 AM PDT.

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