Controlled Burn

Controlled Burn - 9 June 2010

Words matter.

ThisIsNotASpill.org seeks to change the framing used to talk about the BP explosion in the Gulf of Mexico on 20 April 2010. Here it is, almost two months later (18 June 2010) and media are still describing this disaster with the word “spill” in both stories and headlines.

This is not a spill.

A spill is what happens when your toddler knocks over a tumbler of milk.

A spill is what happens when you turn over that bucket of soapy water while washing your car. It’s not what happens when you leave the water hose running for days. Or weeks. Or months.

A spill is what happens when a fixed quantity of fluid accidentally escapes its container.

Connotatively, spills are small.

The BP blowout is neither small nor fixed in quantity. Nor is the oil encased in a container, unless you think of the earth as a container. And by that definition, a volcanic eruption could be considered a spill!

There is a more precise noun that describes what is going on almost a mile below the surface of the ocean, 40 miles off the coast of Louisiana: blowout.

A blowout, in the words of the OilGasGlossary, is “an uncontrolled flow of gas,¬†oil, or other¬†well fluids.” To substantiate my claim that we should be using “blowout” not “spill” to describe this disaster, recall that the exploratory well blowout preventer, “a large valve that can seal off an oil or natural gas well,” failed. Blowout preventer failure = blowout.

This is not a spill.

It is a blowout.

And the sooner that the media begin using the true name to describe this disaster, instead of an innocuous euphemism, the more likely the enormity of the event — and what it means for our seemingly insatiable demand for energy — will permeate our collective conscious.

Please join me in this effort. Here are some things you might do:

  • Send a letter-to-the-editor to your local paper.
  • Call your local radio station.
  • Blog about this. Or Tweet. Or Facebook.
  • Contact your Congress-critter.
  • Send a note to CNN, NBC, ABC, CBS, PBS, FOX.

Then think about what you can do — directly and indirectly — to reduce your “oil footprint” :

  • Check the air in your tires and reduce gas mileage by as much as 3 percent. See more tips for improving MGP.
  • Ask your employer if you can work at home one-day-a-week.
  • Carpool.
  • Take public transportation. (Or lobby for better public transport in your area.)
  • Consider buying a scooter. (But be sure to take a safety class.)
  • Carry a reusable bag with you to the grocery store and/or ask for paper instead of plastic.
  • If you prefer the taste of bottled water, invest in a dispenser and take your water with you in reusable containers. Then refill the dispenser.
  • Buy bulk.
  • Change your home thermostat by two (2) degrees (direct if you have gas heat; indirect otherwise).
  • Lower the thermostat on your hot water heater (direct if you have gas heater; indirect otherwise).
  • Long-term: oppose expanding metro-interstates and instead consider lobbying for better public transportation infrastructure.
  • Long-term: oppose direct and indirect federal or state subsidies and tax loopholes for companies that make internal combustion engines.
  • Long-term: support a short-term (2-5 years) federal tax credit for the purchase of electric or hybrid cars with the costs offset by taxes on gasoline or petroleum.
  • Long-term: support mandatory increases in the federal fuel requirements (CAFE standards).

This is not a spill. It is a blowout.

And it is a man-made environmental disaster that resulted from a series of deliberate decisions that ignored risks and BP’s own internal safety guidelines. It was, as we would say in the motorcycle safety class, a crash, not an accident, which insurance companies define as something akin to an act of God.

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The copyrighted cartoon by Frederick Deligne, Nice-Matin, France, is licensed to run on TMV. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited. All rights reserved.

KATHY GILL, Technology Policy Analyst
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