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Drilling down: Conversations on the Gulf oil disaster

The relentless oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has stymied engineers and policymakers, and left residents along the Louisiana coastline feeling frustrated and powerless. As the crisis raged on, innovators from the world of technology, entertainment and design gathered in Washington, D.C., this week for the TEDxOilSpill conference, a special event on ideas and innovations in affiliation with the nonprofit organization TED.

Need to Know host Jon Meacham sat down with three of the top presenters at the conference: Lisa Margonelli of the New America Foundation, oceanographer David Gallo of Woods Hole, and “explorer-in-residence” at the National Geographic Society Dr. Sylvia Earle. The panel discussed whether the oil spill in the Gulf could be a turning point in American energy policy.

For more on the TedxOilSpill conference, you can watch a First Look clip of Jon Meacham’s interview with Lisa Margonelli, on whether offshore drilling should be banned. Also, Need to Know has a new interactive feature that visualizes the oil spill in five-day increments.

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  • Alex Churovich

    Alex feels he has an idea concerning a better cap for the oil leak and would like to contact someone who could pass his idea to someone that has authority or contact with someone that the authority to do something with his idea. Please contact Alex at

  • Russell Imrie

    I think energy policy in America MIGHT change somewhat if we keep on raising it into the discourse. That in itself is a huge undertaking that TEDx will instigate. However, a more fundamental change in the global consuming behavior based upon petroleum is what’s necessary to prevent this ongoing global catastrophe, of which the BP blowout in the gulf is just one.
    I attended TEDx and it was great and it keeps on being great.

  • jan

    The chairs used in the interview look incredibly uncomfortable; maybe even painful. I feel uncomfortable just watching the guests sit in them.

  • jan

    Also I’m really not sure what TEDx is proposing unless they think everyone living outside of a large city needs to move out of their homes, absorb the major financial loss and move to apartments complexes in the city in order to conserve gas, land and space? You do know that not everyone can live in the city.

    I also didn’t appreciate the general feeling during the interview that those living in the middle of the country aren’t smart enough to realize that what’s happening at the Gulf has the potential to affect them and aren’t concerned. I sort of rolled my eyes what that was said.

    What I did not hear was any sort of solid idea about logistics of gas conservation or switching to alternative fuels or who would fund a public transit system from small towns to larger cities. I didn’t hear anything from them about upcoming Chinese and Indian increased energy usage and I don’t hear or see any proposals from the government, who are the only ones big enough to drive major change.

  • jsover65

    I am surprised that Dr. Sylvia Earle’s words “Ten years is the time frame…” that we humans will determine the continued existance of many forms of life and humans on this planet has not raised more comments. I am a Nebraska resident of over 65 age who has followed the climate change ideas and the recent Gulf of Mexico oil disaster and think that the next ten years are important to all inhabitants of earth.

  • Carol Stewart

    Thank you, for bringing such formidable guests to speak on, BP’s spill and future energy policy. Shocking to learn that no one is able to access BP on the spill in the Gulf and what is being done about it. Dr. Sylvia Earle said the video of the gushing well was like the Christmas day burning yule log on TV, since this is the only image we have had of the well since the beginning. If these remarkable people have not been able to gain access then where are we! Lisa Margnelli, author of, “Oil On The Brain,” also made us aware that the, Nigerian Delta has oil spills every year that are the equivalent of the Exxon’s Valdiz, for decades and why was this allowed to go on! ? The people there are unable to fish or farm, no fresh water, intolerable conditions for the sake of oil!

  • Geri Lennon

    I truly valued the interviews regarding the Gulf crisis. It is one of few rare times that all is discussed with frank hope facing despair and seeking solutions. It was a treasure to play again and again so that we truly do not lose hope and do not fall into forgetfulness. Our beloved ocean is our own life.

  • Konrad Kressley

    Your fawning interview with Sylvia Earle made me sick. I recall, not so long ago, seeing her in a TV commercial praising the environmental benefits of deep sea drilling while standing on the deck of an oil platform. So, yesterday’s paid shill is now the critic of that industry! You missed a great opportunity to address the hyprocisy of the “experts” which, by the way, has a lot to do with the oil spill problem. Where’s the responsible journalism I expect from PBS?

  • TEDxOilSpill: Surface Slicks, Deep Water Despair, Galaxies of Oil Platforms and Why We Really, Truly Don’t Need Oil « Tracker Editor’s Blog

    [...] “Drilling Down: Conversations on the Gulf’s Disaster” – Need to Know / PBS (video/print) [...]

  • Dolores Medina

    US House of Representatives voted 420 to 1 to give the presidential commission investigating the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico full subpoena power. The Senate blocked it. No subpoena powers. No real investigation.

    Please copy and paste to your browser, important

  • Jackie Kersh

    I’m a Florida native whose state was saved by the awful spill from following the example of Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi. I am really frightened by the power the oil companies wield, first halting the moratorium and now trying to hamstring and, I believe, ultimately destroy the special commission. Why is the news media not reporting this? The Gulf, which is bleeding, belongs to all of us, not just the three or four states that have profited from it and would continue to despoil it while they scream for us to save them from themselves. If this tragedy does not prove to be an impetus for change, then all this horror will have been in vain.

  • A response from Dr. Sylvia Earle

    Posted on her behalf by Need to Know editors:

    Never have I nor would I ever say that drilling is beneficial to
    marine life. There is no such thing as impact-free drilling, but significant
    technological and policy changes in recent years have reduced the extent of damage caused.

    I learned a lot about the offshore oil and gas industry when I served
    on the board of directors for Dresser Industries, Oryx Energy and
    Kerr-McGee, from 1996 to 2006. These associations, coupled with 50
    years of working underwater as a scientist and explorer, founding and
    operating three ocean engineering and research companies from
    1981 to 1990 and 1992 to 2000, and years of service on various
    governmental panels and commissions, and as NOAA’s Chief Scientist
    dealing with the consequences of the 1989 Exxon Valdez and 1991
    Persian Gulf spills, have given me an above-average understanding
    about the nature of ocean energy industries, offshore technologies and
    the challenges of accessing the deep sea.

    As a member of the board of Kerr-McGee I appeared in one of their
    television spots that featured the new technologies developed for
    exploration. Since the 1950s, advances in technology for ocean
    exploration have been supported primarily by various military and
    industrial backers, with benefits to those such as I who care about
    scientific exploration.

    I have said publicly that leaving abandoned rigs in place provides
    havens for fish and other creatures, especially if they are designated
    as “no take” areas. It is disruptive when any structure is built in
    the ocean from docks and causeways to pipelines and oil rigs, but once
    there, they become “artificial reefs,” shelter for many organisms. I
    prefer protecting natural systems and do not favor deliberate
    construction of “artificial reefs,” but when structures have been in
    place for 30 or 40 years, taking them out kills and displaces many
    creatures that have settled there. In the Gulf, some refer to the thousands of
    rigs established since the 1940s as a “steel archipelago” that provides favorable
    habitats for some species while displacing others that prosper without large,
    intricate surfaces in the midst of open water. – Sylvia Earle

  • Astrid Dodds

    “Drilling Down – Conversations on the Gulf Oil Disaster” Friday, 2 July, on Need to Know (PBS), was far and away the best piece of journalism on this topic that I have seen or read in the last three months. It matched the best of Bill Moyers in fact. Earle, Gallo and Margonelli all contributed to this gripping conversation; Lisa Margonelli was especially prescient. I hope Need to Know will cover more issues this well. (“Drilling Down” stood in vivid contrast to the pitiful waste of time that preceded it — the story about spies. The spy episode was so tasteless and content-free that I nearly turned the TV set off.)