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The Gulf oil spill

The Gulf spill on April 29, 2010. Photo: AP Photo/NASA

The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has been front page news since April 20, when an explosion on the Horizon Deepwater oil rig sent hundreds of thousands of gallons of crude oil spewing into the gulf and claimed 11 lives. Despite the nonstop coverage, here are five things that you might not know about the leak/fiasco:

1. Environmental disaster in the making it may be, but the Horizon Deepwater spill has a ways to go before even breaking into the world’s biggest spills. The second largest, also in the Gulf of Mexico, was 1979′s Ixtoc 1, which, like Horizon Deepwater, was also a well blowout rather than a finite tanker spill.

At the rate the Horizon Deepwater spew is going, it would take nine years to match Ixtoc 1′s three million barrels spilled. That being said, this year’s disaster could ultimately have longer lasting effects as the crude oil is washing up in sensitive wetland areas rather than just on sandy beaches where it’s easier to clean.

2. A month ago, on the anniversary of the Exxon Valdez spill, the Coast Guard and 50 other federal, state and commercial agencies held their triennialSuper Bowl of response exercises” to practice addressing a Spill of National Significance (SONS). More than 600 participants from more than 50 agencies simulated a 69,000-barrel crude oil spill approximately 16 miles off the coast of Maine. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)‘s Office of Response & Restoration touted a new web-based “situational awareness tool” called ERMA and Coast Guard officials hailed the event as a total success.

So, is that like the success of Super Bowl XXXVII champions the Tampa Bay Bucs who didn’t make the playoffs the following season?

3. One of the populations that could be hardest hit is the area’s Vietnamese-American community. Thousands of people who came to the U.S. as refugees in the 1980s brought their experience in the fishing and shrimping trades and settled along the Gulf Coast. According to Bichnga “Jay” Boulet, a NOAA employee who regularly translates regulations for the Vietnamese-speaking community, many “were not able to learn new skills and have had hard times learning English in a short time period.” Let’s keep our fingers crossed someone is giving thought to job training if people are forced out of the fishing industry.

4. Mayor-elect of New Orleans, Mitch Landrieu, has been consumed with oil spill meetings during his transition. “It’s potentially very devastating to the coast and the fisheries, the  ecosystem … We have been telling people for 30 years, and of course  we’ve been yelling into the wind … how important Louisiana’s coast is to the rest of the nation,” he said in a recent interview. Interestingly, his sister, Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) who has been a longtime cheerleader for expanded offshore drilling was getting criticized on The Huffington Post for minimizing the potential for and impact of the spill. Not quite at loggerheads, but you have to wonder if they see eye to eye on oil rigs in the Gulf.

5. Don’t you think it’s crazy how SWAT teams are going out to examine rigs in the Gulf? There are definitely some folks who do. Former Reagan cabinet adviser Mark Levin has called it a “stunner,” and says, “I think those SWAT teams are there in coordination with the attorney general’s office, the Interior Department, Homeland Security, maybe the EPA to gather records, to seize records at these sites and to  lay the foundation for more government takeovers.” But are they SWAT teams? Or teams from SWAT Consulting?  Or Soil and Water Assessment Tools? Or strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT) teams? Or does it simply stand for Swift Action Team? The latter seems the best guess, but feel free to let your conspiracy theories run rampant until we get a definitive answer.


  • gussle

    Someone needs to investigate the misuse of law enforcement resources in sending SWAT teams to the Gulf. I could foresee a Congressional Inquiry. It is so kind of you to care what we think, but WHY ISN’T THE MEDIA DOING ITS JOB INVESTIGATING instead of asking your viewers to speculate????

  • wendy

    so is Bp going to let the oil stay like Exon did, 10 years later the people who lived there are still affected, does this mean my fuel prices will triple so they can line their pockets and the people who gave their lives, the people who will lose their lively hood suffer while executives watch still raking in the cash? We are not ignorant, people trust because they need to, so I hope and pray our government stops this insanity, bp stop the spill, stop looking at the bottom line and look at the what is below and above it, eventually the truth will come out, I hope it isn’t already too late.

  • Jack Haesly

    In reading your comments, I thought I was going to hear something that Bill Moyers might have to say on the subject. What I got from you instead was a defense of the off-shore oil industry.
    I will say this. It is highly unlikely the gusher can be stopped in the short term. The ecologic and financial damage that will surely result from the contaminated coasts will have unimaginable consequence.
    Further, for you to bring the subject up of the Vietnam refugees of twenty-five years ago is a really low blow. America invaded Vietnam and destroyed their country…or have you forgotten. Retrain old men that have put food on your table? Give me a break. What about the flora and fauna of the coastal regions that will surely die in mass as a result of being tarred and oil residue feathered.
    I used to think PBS was fair and balanced. Now I beginning to look at you in the same light on some subjects as following Fox News. I can only guess that is so due to your corporate sponsors that apparently are exerting their financial and political influence. Shame on you!

  • whitey

    I thought I was going to read something serious and important when the header said “5 things you need to know..”. I could have done without reading this garbage. Suprised PBS even posted such trash! Leave the comedy to the professionals at Comedy Central.

  • Middleclass

    The US government should do what a government is suppose to do. A short time limit must be imposed and severe multimillion dollar fines must be enforced if the leak is not stopped within the time limit. If the time limit is not met, then the US government should unleash every possible private and military means to stop the leak. What ever the cost this must be paid within 12 months by the oil company. Thereafter the entire cleanup efforts should be supervised by the government and the final approval of the clean up require all coastal state governors to approve the results. All commercial, private and public claims to losses must be handled by some commission which needs to be immediately set up. All awards should be non contestable. All claims,payments and cleanup must be completed in 24 months with severe fines for non compliance. The oil companies must pay such a severe fine that the losses stun them for at least ten years. Oh yes one step further. The government should pass a law that all payments for spills, disasters, and cleanup, can not be passed on through increased prices and must be clearly shown to come from profits and executive salaries.

  • CRS

    I’m fairly certain that the government mobilized SWOT teams (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats business analysis teams) since it was said that DOI mobilized “SWAT” teams. I think this is a SNAFU and someone in Public Information goofed up the release. SWOT analysis is very standard after any type of business or natural disaster.

    Makes no sense to send armed men to a platform, those things are floating gas-stations!!

  • kiee1`

    I must say the oil compay Rep tonite made me sick , his smile no big thing , well desspertents sink the oil to the ocean floor , ask anyone shrimpers our on the bottom . How willl these fisheries ever recover . they wont . the etire industry will end . No more smiles , A whole way of life will end. In 1976 President Jimmy Carter predicted this he had the plan ! Why was it not followed ? Ronald Reagan the great deregulater , in the last 3 years we have reaped what sowed, We need to DeReganize our nation

  • Bliss

    Adequate news programs ask the hard questions… GOOD news programs provide answers to them. I appreciate that some points are being raised that may not be elsewhere in the media, but that is barely half the battle. I hope the actual program is more in-depth than the website hints at… if I wanted impotent bullet points I would go to… well… the “Huffington Post”. Please don’t make the loss of “Now” be so that PBS can become a clone of every other pseudo-news outlets out there.

  • Donald

    5 Things “Need To Know” needs to know.

    1) Stop talking to the public like they’re children.

    2) PBS stands for PUBLIC broadcasting service. NOT pre-teen broadcasting service.

    3) It’s wrong and unpatriotic to ignore (let alone change) context (history).

    4) Journalism in America is hanging by a thread already. Don’t make it worse.

    5) Stop talking to the public like they’re children.

    I won’t be watching. Please go away.

  • Frederick Wright

    As a Floridian and member of Florida Purge for no drilling off the Florida Coast , I am still firm on NO Drilling off Florida for the future and we have advocated for no drilling in the gulf for this reason for BP, Exxon, and others have no proved that they can contain a mishap.

    Not wanting to sound like a know it all, however where are the Navy Ships and CBs for they could help and why don’t we have excess to barges with large pumps to filter the water in the 1000s of barges for the safe garud and protection for such a envirorment mistakes by us Oil Seekers. More resources need to be adressed to this National Emergency to the Gulf of Mexico must be applied.

  • Keith

    Not sure who Erin Chapman is, but the tone of this post is really … off. The bit about SWAT teams and SWOT teams is like something you’d read in a second-rate college newspaper. Find out what’s going on, then report about it: don’t stoke the lunatic conspiracy theories in a pathetic bid to increase web traffic.

    Come on, PBS. I know you can do better.

  • Oil Now and in the Long Haul – Dot Earth Blog –

    [...] at PBS, gives an estimated running tally of oil released. I’ll be on the new PBS program Need to Know tonight around 8:30 p.m. discussing the evolving situation in the [...]

  • Richard Lee Dechert

    Jack Haesly above concludes by saying: “I used to think PBS was fair and balanced. Now I beginning to look at you in the same light on some subjects as following Fox News. I can only guess that is so due to your corporate sponsors that apparently are exerting their financial and political influence. Shame on you!”

    Is he aware that KNT is produced by WNET-New York, not PBS, and under PBS rules WNET is soley responsible for its content? Unlike FOX News does he know that KNT receives no corporate, commerical underwriting? Its funders are clearly announced before and after the broadcasts and are clearly posted on the Website. And what evidence can he produce to support his allegation that the first or any following episode of “Need to Know” is compromised by “political influence”? Competently critiquing PBS-distributed programs or any other programs requires facts, not guesses.

    Speaking only for myself, I’m a retired longtime staffer at a major-market PBS station that is not affiliated with WNET.

  • oldParasiteSingle

    This was by far my favorite piece of the premiere. The Bill Clinton interview was fine but I don’t believe the 10 minute Q&A were any different from another satellite talk on The View. Need To Know was the only program all week to mention the fact that the entire state of LA itself has been a captured agent of big oil for 100+ years. I knew this from my 7 months living in NOLA in the 1980s, but it needed to be said and CBS News wasn’t saying it. Basically the LA official bird should be changed from the newly endangered again Brown Pelican to a buzzard with a bag of oily money in its beak. In addition LA lobbying is responsible for the perverted subsidy war with Cuba over sugar exports that destroyed the Haitian economy and continues to destabilize American relations and trade.

  • Edith Murphy

    The news about the oil spill is changing every day; I’m sure “the 5 things we need to know” is changing at least that often. The information we get from PBS can be trusted above all the other networks for any point in time.

  • Oil Now and in the Long Haul « Don at Dawn

    [...] program at PBS, gives an estimated running tally of oil released. I’ll be on the new PBS program Need to Know tonight around 8:30 p.m. discussing the evolving situation in the [...]

  • Espo

    Can the use of sandbags dropped ast the source of the spill do any good to stem the flow? Just wondering.

  • Geoff Liss

    It’s the big media/government conspiracy, you only know what they want to know. However don’t worry about the oil spill our government and big business have it under control and Goldman Sachs is financing it. Our environment is in safe hands. Thank Goodness.


  • Timothy B Little

    I just saw the video.I have been doing plumbing and pipefitting for 26 years.When testing the systems we use something call a wing-nut test plug or balloon type test balls.Why can’t they design one to fit inside that pipe.with a valve on one end open while installing so that it can still flow through until the device is securely in place inside the pipe, and then shut the valve.Maybe with a pnuematic valve since you probably can not get men down there.
    Just an idea.

    Timothy B. Little

  • jim bob

    hi bob

  • Brian Miller

    Obama needs to get off his ass and do something.Obviously there is way more oil gushing into the gulf than what BP has been saying.The government has finally ,after a month sent someone in to see how much oil is really spilling out into the gulf.Obama says this is BP’s mess to clean up.Get real! The goverment needs to step in and do what ever it takes to put an end to this mess.Billing BP for every penny along the way.The government gives these big oil companies to much wiggle room to do what ever they want to do.Not only has BP polluted the gulf with oil,but with the chemicals they are using to(so called fight) the oil spill when there are cleaner and better alternatives.Drilling for oil is not the problem. Goverment regulations are!


    drop sandbags on the leak, hundreds of thousands of tons of sandbags

    remember, the next time you go to the station to fill up your car, and nothing flows from the pump, your prayers have been answered

  • Bruce Carney

    I agree that it is pitiful that this article is on the PBS web site. Especially that last part about how “we” couldn’t get a “definitive answer” about SWAT Teams. Anyone searching for definitive answers should be able to come to PBS to find them. And yes, SWAT Team is the correct term, just not literally. At the April 29, 2010 White House Press Briefing on the BP Oil Spill in the Gulf Coast, a member of the press asked the question: “As this investigation continues over what caused this, are other rigs or other wells in the region being looked at or impacted in a way to prevent the problem from compounding?” Deputy Secretary of the Interior, David Hayes responded: “Yes . . . We have a SWAT team of inspectors. We have 55 — the Department of the Interior Minerals Management Service has 55 inspectors on the ground, in the Gulf, dedicated to this task. So, yes, inspections are proceeding.” So, yeah, the Department of Interior’s own Deputy Secretary on April 29 referred to the team of 55 oil rig inspectors from the Department of Interior as a “SWAT Team” and later that day the President stated (preceding the Teacher of the Year honor in the Rose Garden, and also reiterated by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs on May 1), “the Department of Interior has announced that they will be sending SWAT teams to the Gulf to inspect all platforms and rigs”. It’s pretty clear they were referring to the DOI’s team of inspectors as a “SWAT Team” or Teams, and not to actual Armed Police S.W.A.T. Teams. This didn’t alarm anybody until Mark Levin started speculating on his radio show about what an actual S.W.A.T. Team is, and said they were sending “armed S.W.A.T. Teams.” This is precisely how conspiracy theories are born. It took Rush Limbaugh about another week to process this and come up with some vague theory about how SWAT Teams had to be sent down there (to stop? to help?) those crazy environmentalist whackos from blowing up oil rigs (oil rig exploded on April 20th), just in time for the Cap and Trade Bill originally scheduled to be announced on Earth Day (April 22). Of course he said he was just “noting the timing here” when he alluded to the explosion. Hopefully this answers any thinking person’s question about what the President was talking about when he indeed said “SWAT Teams,” unless of course you just have an over-active imagination or, like a lawyer with the name Levin, you are unable to discern between literal and figurative use of terms like “SWAT Team”.

  • tim s.

    i think with all the money BP has,they would already had stopped the’s a shame that the wildlife and all the people surrounding it is suffering!!!!!!!

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