Thursday, July 01, 2010

Trivia Quiz: Identify "Ixtoc I"

Give up?

Ixtoc I was an oil rig off the coast of Mexico in the eponymous Gulf Thereof. In 1979-80, it blew and spewed what has been until this point the largest amount of oil ever released into the Gulf in a single event.

And it may still be the biggest ever. No one knows for sure how much goo the BP spill is spilling, but the high-end estimates would only in the next few days put the total above the Ixtoc I spill.

So, why have you and we never heard of Ixtoc I, while we've heard of Exxon Valdiz and Santa Barbara and such? Well, silly, Ixtoc I affected Mexico, so it doesn't matter.

This phenomenon is utterly common and predictable, of course. Influential people, meaning rich people, object to environmental impact that is nearby. They're oblivious to the same when it is far away.

So it's fine to drill in the Middle East but not in the USA. The biggest spill ever was in the Persian Gulf, by the way, where our former friend Saddam deliberately dumped a half billion gallons during the 1991 war.

Closer to home this NIMBY phenomenon works as well. It's fine to drill off the coast of benighted Southern states, but not off the prestigious Atlantic or Pacific coastlines, where the movers and shakers move and shake.

We'll opine that the worst of this is that there's been no public discussion of the effect of these previous spills on the ecosystems of their regions or significant citation of lessons learned from such episodes (see only the forward-looking remark of a Coast Guard Commander cited at the end of the article linked above). There's only hand-wringing and favor-begging and political posing by political poseurs. We'd rather blame and profit than learn and solve.


JB in CA said...

You're right. This is the first I've heard of it. But the Persian Gulf "spill" was not the largest spill ever. That distinction goes to the Lakeview Gusher, which may have been larger than all five of the spills mentioned in your post, combined. And I hadn't heard of that one, either, until I looked it up.

To my surprise, it occurred on the West coast of the US—within a stone's throw of the movers and shakers—but in a sparsely populated area of Kern County. So why hadn't I (we?) heard of it before? Not for political reasons, I imagine. The fact that it completely destroyed the surrounding ecosystem, which remains desolate to this day (a century after the fact), would almost certainly be seized upon by the anti-oil lobby for political gain. The obvious answer, I think, is because it took place way back in 1910, and we, as a society, tend to have a very short memory.

So maybe distance in time could be added to your reasons why we haven't heard of the Ixtoc spill. If so, that's too bad, because the lack of historical perspective can do nothing but harm our attempts to solve these recurring problems.

Jon A. Alfred E. Michael J. Wile E. SWNID said...

So much for relying on AP for historical perspective.