It’s NOT a Spill.

By jes. on May 28, 2010

WASHINGTON, DC (Herald de Paris) – A spin around the airwaves, the – umm – cablewaves, and the news media headlines this morning revealed a most disturbing trend in the news media’s coverage of the BP oil rig disaster in the Gulf of Mexico:  This fiasco is being seriously downplayed.


A particular hero of mine, the late William Safire of the New York Times, made it his purpose to pick apart the use, and appropriately the misuse, of words.  This situation in the Gulf of Mexico needs a William Safire, for everyone from NBC News to CNN to Safire’s own New York Times keeps referring to the ecological disaster unfolding after the fire and destruction of the Deepwater Horizon Platform as, “The Gulf Spill.”

It’s not a spill.

The Compact Oxford English Dictionary defines the word SPILL as:


verb (past and past part. spilt or spilled) 1 flow or cause to flow over the edge of a container.

This definition implies two things.  First, for something to flow over the edge of a container implies gravity to propel – in this case – a liquid from its place of residence.  But more importantly appears the use of the term container.  By introducing the word container implies a vessel whose purpose is to restrain the liquid within.

Ironically, the Exxon Valdez was such a vessel both literally and figuratively.  It contained crude oil within its hull during transport.  The Exxon Valdes spilled its contents along the coast of Alaska.  This is a true sentence.

British Petroleum and its Deepwater Horizon rig did not spill crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico, they did something far worse.  What they did was to perforate the earth’s crust by artificial means, and not secure the perforation properly in an effort to safeguard both human life and the world’s oceans simply to save money and increase profit margins.

When the Deepwater Horizon caught fire and sank, the company’s purposeful disregard to invest in proper fail safe measures caused a rupture of the once-controlled and artificial perforation.  A rupture is not a spill, it is far more severe.

A fair comparison, ironically, might be your local gas station.  While filling a vessel, in this case your car’s gas tank, with fuels derived from crude oil, it is entirely likely that you could over-fill the vessel and spill some down the fender of your car and onto the pavement.  This is not the same thing as if the huge underground tank below the gas station were punctured or perforated by artificial means (like a backhoe), allowing the gasoline in the underground reserve to seep, over a sustained period, into the surrounding soil, and ultimately into the local groundwater supply where it could affect the local food chain, cause illness, and possibly even the loss of human life.

Therefore, to call the BP Gulf of Mexico oil rig fiasco simply a spill is seriously downplaying the severity of what has been happening.


So where will all this crude oil end up?  I think I know.  To be certain, the oil will not all land on the marshy shorelines and the beaches of the United States.  Much of it will be carried by the oceanic currents around the globe, and what doesn’t affix itself to a solid mass such as a beach, a boat, or sea life will end up where everything ends up in our oceans, the Great Pacific Garbage Vortex or the newly discovered North Atlantic Garbage Vortex.

While it may seem somehow poetic for all that plastic garbage floating in our oceans to be reunited with the crude oil it was made from, this isn’t a good thing, at all.

We already know that sea birds, fish, and sea mammals are consuming plastic pellets in our oceans thinking they are plankton.  Ultimately, the undigested pellets kill all these creatures.  Now consider that these same ocean dwellers will still be consuming plastic pellets only now they will be coated with an oily toxic slime.

What BP may have done by being too cheap to use common sense in the use of fail safe measures while drilling at the bottom of our seas was to ruin the seafood industry, because as much as I love a good piece of fish I won’t eat that stuff, anymore.  Let’s see how long it takes for British Petroleum to have affected a stock market swing  away from commercial fishing, and into fish farming and beef cattle.


At some point, you can almost count on someone from the BP payroll to make a statement that these sorts of ruptures have probably happened in our oceans for millions of years, mostly due to seismic activity.  They will claim that the oceans have and will again recover.

What they won’t tell you is that the system is broken.  We broke it.  We’ve filled the oceans with garbage, fished innumerable fish species to extinction, and changed the atmospheric environment in ways that, in-turn, affect the ocean further.  Since 1960 alone, we have double the number of carbon dioxide-exhaling humans on the planet, while cutting in half the number of carbon dioxide breathing trees.

Can mother nature recover while being strangled and gasping for air?  Nobody knows.

Buy one of our “BP OCEAN” t-shirts, and we’ll donate the net profits to help save the wildlife affected by this disaster.


John Tigar May 28, 2010

Hmmm. So many interesting points here to discuss. First, calling it a spill does not actually downgrade how severe this accident is. In fact, the examples you used actually support the use of “spill” more than they do its inappropriateness. You used the Exxon Valdez as an example of a “spill” and the Gulf as something much worse, a rupture. Actually when the Valdez ran aground, it caused the double hulls to “rupture”, spilling the ship’s contents into the water. It did not cause the oil to overflow or slosh out of its container. When the Deepwater Horizon drilling platform sank, it caused the pipeline to “rupture”allowing its contents to spill into the water. Though the word spew would be more appropriate in this case, its noun version spewage doesn’t actually exist.

Please don’t get me wrong, I am in no way trying to disagree with you in how severe this environmental disaster is. In all actuality, you have probably understated the the ultimate impact it will have on the world’s oceans. But at the same time, it is too reactionary to stop eating seafood because of this accident. Such a reaction will hurt the world’s commercial fishing industry far, far more than this oil will. It is a lot of oil, and it will spread to a lot of places. Even though it will be the largest US oil “spill” in history, it is a drop in the bucket when you look at how much oil has already been spilled historically ( The top ten individual spills probably do not even come close to the amount of oil introduced into the oceans during World War II with out any effort at clean up. So if you ate fish before, there is not much reason to stop eating it now. I certainly don’t intend to. My Grandfather shared stories of fishing the beaches of NJ after the war and of having to wipe the oil from the fishing line while reeling in a catch.

I agree with you that the system is broken. It is a reactionary system. All reactionary systems only respond to a problem they do not try to prevent one. That type of system always leads to disaster.

A parting note: The ocean’s phytoplankton (possibly responsible for producing half of the world’s oxygen) will feel the effects of any oil spillage, spewage, or seepage more deeply than sea birds, fish and mammals, even though the larger animal’s plight is immediately apparent. Ironic since the little buggers are responsible for the existence of much of the planet’s oil too.

PS I have been following global warming trends since 1972, far before it was fashionable, and understood the importance of “living green” long before anyone actually called it that. I am not on BP’s payroll.

John Mantz May 28, 2010

great point! The time has come for the people to take back our land from the corporations! I am so angry and sick to my stomach over this. Rachel Madow detailed how the predecessor corp. to Transocean had a similar “rupture” 30yrs ago in 200 feet of water and they tried the same stuff, top hat, In mexico it was called “sombrero”, dispersant, junk shot, top kill ect. none of it worked and the oil erupted into the ocean for 9 months. The point is in 30 years they created technology that can now drill down over 5000 ft., but these companies haven’t created any new technologies to replace the technologies that failed to work to clean up a similar accident that happend 30 years ago. Wall Street, the Oil Companies, 30 dead miners in W.V., two miners in Kentucky. This situation is untenable, Obama didn’t take charge earlier because of a cold political calculation, i.e., that he didn’t want to be responsible for something that had no good solution. WE NEED A DAMN REVOLUTION!!!

Jes Alexander May 28, 2010

How anyone can be allowed to undertake this risky work without the fail-safe mechanism being AT THE BASE of the well, is beyond me. If every gas station pump can have a fail-safe breakaway device to mitigate accidental hose breakage, then so should every deep water well.

John Tigar May 28, 2010

The fail safe for a blow out was in place. You can see it in the live feed. You can even see the word “Kill” and an arrow that points in the right direction for the ROV to operate it. However, it had a dead battery in the control module, hydraulic leaks and insufficiently strong shears to cut the pipe and stop the oil. Be sure to have the facts before you criticize so you can criticize for the right reasons.

Daphne Lawton May 29, 2010

I agree with the author that “spill” really connotes a glass of wine tipping over, or a sink overflowing, not the cataclysmic catastrophe that is killing the Gulf of Mexico. I am sure Tony Heywood and that Suttle jerk who is constantly lying on television would prefer the word “spill.”
Just in case most readers are expats and may not have heard the latest, BP is finally admitting that the “top kill” is not working, and probably they knew it would never work, but they are trying to shine the government and the public on ie they have been lying since the beginning to both the government and the media. So they wasted a week, while this hellish fluid is continuing to reign death on innocent wildlife and the beautiful Louisiana marshes. Now it’s being reported that BP wants to pick its own judge in the even the President finally grows a set and BP finds itself facing a few charges in federal court. They have their guy all arranged, it’s a judge from Houston (where else?) who frequently travels the world lecturing on behalf of oil companies. How impartial can you get?

ray christl May 30, 2010

This is a 70 year war on any alternative to BIG OIL-PETRO=CHEM+PHARM that use CIA-MAFIA control of POLITY>> with corrupt cops in every POLIS.. to implement SWAT TEAM fear so POLICY >>can stay the same .POLITICS is what keeps the CIA secret bank accounts so full.

Leave a comment