Charles Wohlforth covered the Exxon Valdez oil spill for the Anchorage Daily News 21 years ago. After years of writing about how inadequate Exxon’s response was he finally came to this realization:
…I had covered the wrong story. The important point wasn’t that Exxon couldn’t clean up its oil spill. The point was, no one could clean it up.
By telling the story of the company’s incompetence, we had perpetuated the myth that real cleanup of a major oil spill is possible. We had left the industry free to say that next time, with proper preparation and equipment, they would be able to recover any spilled oil.
The truth is that when large amounts of oil go into the ocean, it’s a huge success to recover as much as 10 percent. More than that is rarely possible. Oil spreads too rapidly and reacts too quickly with the environment; and the ocean is a challenging place to work, especially considering the logistics of speedily gathering up a blob the size of a small state.
…as a society we’re not compelled to allow drilling that puts these precious places at risk. We could instead choose to not drill offshore, then let energy prices rise accordingly and switch to the alternative fuels that would become economically viable.